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Ted's Corner
Previous Year Archives



Ted's Corner Archives

Everything you always wanted  to know about plants and lawns, but were afraid to ask.

Wecome to my past articles from previous years.  I hope that you enjoy them.

Click Here for Current Year Articles

Ted Rayman,  Master Gardner Chesterfield County.   Click Here to email us:




12/15/2009

May I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  It is very close to the end of the year and we are all running around like we need to get things done that we should have done all year.  That is if you are like me.  It really should be a time to enjoy all of that work that we did during the past year.  We mowed watered, fertilized, and reseeded the lawn.  We pruned the bushes, we weeded our flower beds, and we started a mulch pile and turned it over several times during the past months.  Some of us planted a garden.  We tended the garden, keeping out the weeds, the squirrels, the moles and the voles and then we harvested.  All of that attention to the weeds and vermin was well worth the time.  The carrots, tomatoes, leeks, potatoes, lettuce, cucumbers and radishes were very tasty.  I also started a small mushroom farm under the trees in the back yard.  As a matter of fact another fellow Kawanian, Guy Smith, started one the same time.  We infected a pile of logs with Shiitake spawn and piled them up in a shady spot.  We did this during the summer so we have not harvested any mushrooms this year, but next year we will have a good crop.  In addition I tried another type of mushroom called a Blue Oyster mushroom.  The logs produced a very healthy crop late in the summer.   Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms are saprophages that is they dissolve wood or make it rot.  The logs last for about 3 to 6 years and at the end you have a very small pile of spongy logs.  If any of you would like to learn how to grow these tasty fungi let me know and I would be happy to show you.

Since there is very little to do out in the yard during the winter months I have been trying to learn about growing vegetables in the winter.  The weather here in the Chester area is quite mild, zone 7B, so it is quite possible to grow cold tolerant crops outside without heat or extra light.  Many vegetables are tolerant to freezing temperatures as long as they are protected from the wind which will dry out the leaves.  If the ground is frozen the roots cannot supply the moisture to the tops if the wind dries out the leaves and the plant will die.  A simple plastic cover supported by hoops will allow light to enter and keep the wind off of the plant.  The temperature inside the enclosure will go down to almost the same temperature as outside the enclosure but the simple fact that wind cannot dry out the plants makes them think that they are about 250 to 500 miles south of here in Zone 8. Now the plants will not grow as fast as they do in the summer but if planted in August or September they will produce all winter.  Cold weather plants are carrots, lettuce, kale, broccoli, and about 15 or 20 other plants.  If it gets really cold like below “0” another cover under the hoop cover is necessary and this makes it more difficult to tend to the cold weather garden because you need to take the under cover away during the day so that the plants get enough sun shine. It is still possible but much more time consuming.

Very shortly we will be getting new catalogs for summer vegetables and flowers in the mail.  So while you are setting in the house wishing for something to do start planning your garden – when to start seeds inside, when to dig in the mulch, when to clean up the tools  and when to start ordering your new seeds.  Winter is normally a time to relax and make new plans so go for it.

10/12/2009
I’m sure the all of you have aerated, fertilized, and seeded your lawn by now.  However, if you haven’t there is still time.  Not much but there is time to put in some new grass seed.  Our normal first frost is still about two weeks away so even though the nights are getting a little cool the grass will still come up and start growing.  If you are going to plant fescue type seed you are in good shape.  If, however, you want to put in some warm weather grass it is too late – you have another few months of saying “I’m going to plant Zoysia or Bermuda next year.”

Reseeded lawns need several things no matter where you live.  First and foremost is the correct seed that is weed free and has a reasonable germination rate of at least 80%.  This will insure that the seed you pay good money for will at least start to grow.  Next the ground that this seed lands on must be at least somewhat fertile and of course there must be moisture.  If you had your soil tested in the past 2 years you know what the soil needs to get it ready for seed.  If you did not get a soil test you may have to guess at the needs of the lawn.  A starter type lawn fertilizer applied according to the directions on the bag will do about as good as you can under the circumstances.  This will carry you through until next summer when you can get a soil test done.  If you do not want to put anything but seed down you can get the test done now, but if you have applied anything like lime or fertilizer wait at least 4 months before you consider doing the testing.  It takes a long time for soil chemistry to change so just be patient.  One thing that you might want to do is aerate with a plug type aerator then put the seed down.  Moisture is now going to be very important – if you have a watering system set it to water 2 to 3 times per day for the next 10 days.  This is not a full watering just one that gets the top ¼ inch of soil damp.  Most of the time spraying 4 to 5 minutes per zone it is enough to keep the soil moist.  If this moisture is not added to the emerging lawn then it is doubtful that a stand of grass will ensue.  Fertilizer, lime, and grass seed can be put out at the same time. 

I know that a lot of people in the Chester area really like chrysanthemums in the fall of the year.  They come in many different colors and sizes and generally brighten up the fall garden where ever they are either planted or placed.  Well, guess what, a new, at least to us, disease has been found at a nursery in Virginia’s Fairfax County it is called Chrysanthemum White Rust or Puccinia horiana.  This nursery had about 200 plants available for sail and all of them had the disease.  None of the plants were grown in Virginia; all were shipped in from out of state.  Of course all of the plants were destroyed immediately before any were sold.  This the first time that this disease has been found in the state of Virginia.  

This disease originated in eastern Asia and has since spread throughout Europe, Africa, Australia, Central America and South America. There have been sporadic outbreaks in the past few decades in the United States and Canada, but so far the disease has been eradicated.  

The first symptoms of Chrysanthemum White Rust are small light green to yellow spots on the upper leaf surface. Subsequently, pinkish pustules, which later turn white, develop on the lower leaf surface. Pustules can also develop on flowers. Signs of the fungus usually develop first on younger leaves and flowers.  If you see any sign of this disease on any Chrysanthemum plants at your house, your neighbors or at any nursery please contact your local county agent immediately.  
 
 Chrysanthemum White Rust -susceptible hosts include pot mums, cut mums, and garden mums (Chrysanthemum morifolium=Dendranthema grandiflorum); Nippon daisy (Nipponanthemum nipponicum) and giantdaisy (Leucanthemella serotina=Chrysanthemum serotinum). Cool, wet weather favors development of Chrysanthemum White Rust.  So how do you fight this problem?  Below is a quote from the Virginia Cooperative Extension and Consumer Services arm of Virginia Tech University.

“Purchase disease-free propagation material. Ensure good air circulation low humidity and adequate plant spacing to promote foliar drying. Scout susceptible plants on a regular basis. Do not handle imported flowers near mum production areas, even if they appear disease-free. Cuttings may show no symptoms, yet be infected. If you are in a location where Chrysanthemum White Rust has been identified, a preventative fungicide spray program should be implemented. The following fungicides are recommended for use in a preventative spray program in nurseries and greenhouses: Heritage (azoxystrobin), Daconil Ultrex (chlorothalonil), Cygnus (kresoxim-methyl), Dithane 75 DF (mancozeb) and Strike (triadimefon). Follow label rates, application recommendations and precautions.”


07/30/2009

I can hardly believe it but summer is getting shorter and shorter.  It is almost the last day of July and it seems that summer just started yesterday.  At least we have not had the dry hot weather that was last years problem.  However, even with all of our rainfall the ground is still somewhat dry.  I have had several questions about planting or transplanting trees and bushes.  The common advice is that we should not transplant trees/bushes during the hot dry season because the plant just does not have the root system to take up the proper amount of water and it will quickly begin to droop and then will die because of insufficient moisture.  Now with that being said, some times it is possible to get lucky and the plant will flourish.  If the plant was root pruned last fall or early spring it may have grown sufficient feeder roots to take up the proper amount of moisture – of course the person planting it must supply the water almost daily by soaking the ground around the plant.  That plant was probably pruned severely prior to transplanting.  It is possible to transplant during the summer if and only if things go properly. 

Some other questions that I have been getting have to do with grass and how to keep it looking good.  Several questions have to do with brown splotches appearing in the yard.  Most of these spots are caused by compacted soil, heat reflectors, human inattention, dog urine, overwatering, overfeeding, thatch or sloping ground.  In order to figure out what is causing the problem you need to be a good detective.  Compacted soil is usually hard so that water cannot get into the ground.  Solve this one by aerating and more water.  Dog urine is usually caused by female dogs relieving themselves in one spot.  Solve this one by getting the dog to go somewhere else.  Overwatering and overfeeding usually go together the lawn is fed several times during the summer and the lawn is watered often this causes the fungus to grow.  Solve this one by stopping the feeding and lay off of the water for several days.  One thing about this is that the grass will come back this fall even if you do nothing.  Of course you can spray the lawn with a fungicide but this will just cost you money and the lawn will look great this fall just as if you did nothing.  Thatch can prevent water from getting into the soil so the grass does not get enough water.  The thatch will be a good place for diseases to grow.  This fall thatch your lawn.  Human inattention is probably not what is going on here because you are paying attention and you found a problem, had you not even noticed it then it could be inattention.

Some of you that have gardens have probably harvested some of your bounty by now and you are thinking about what to do next to get a fall harvest.  Between now and August 15th the following items can be planted:

Beets (55-60 days to maturity)
Broccoli (70 to 80 days to maturity)
Cabbage plants (70 to 80 days to maturity).
Chinese cabbage (75 to 80 days to maturity)
Cauliflower (55 to 65 days to maturity)  
Collards (60 to 100 days to maturity)
Cucumbers (40 to 50 days to maturity)
Kohlrabi (50 to 60 days to maturity)
Lettuce leaf and head (40 to 85 days to maturity)
Mustard (30 to 40 days to maturity)
Onions seeds (130 to 140 days to maturity) harvest in spring
Onion sets (60 to 80 days to maturity)
Radishes (25 to 30 days to maturity) Plant once per week for 4 weeks
Rutabagas (70 to 80 days to maturity)
Spinach (50 to 60 days to maturity)
Turnips (55to 60 days to maturity)

This is probably not a complete list of items that you can grow prior to a real killing frost but if you plant only 20 to 30 % of the above list you will have a good fall harvest.  Another nice thing about late gardens is that you may not have a many bugs as you have with spring plantings.  Also most of the items listed are hardy to a frost and probably will not be harmed even if it does get cool.

Now is a very good time to get your soil tested by a soil laboratory that will give you a detailed analysis of your soil so that you can fertilize and put down either lime to increase the pH or sulfur to lower the pH.  Most of the plants other than azaleas, rhododendrons and other acid loving plants like a pH of 5.5 to 8.0 and this includes grass.  Most garden plants like a pH of 6.5 to 7.5.  The problem is that when the pH gets below 5.5 the Nitrogen is tied up and the plant cannot use it and when the pH is higher than about 7.7 the Nitrogen is released as gas and again the plant cannot use it.

Next month, September is the start of lawn reseeding or renovation.  Get ready.

05/17/2009

With all of the rain that we have been getting in the last few weeks most all, if not all of the yards are looking great.  The grass is green, some of the winter weeds are disappearing, and the grass is growing very nicely even though very little was done last fall to encourage this good fortune.  Well, for about one season neglect of the lawn will not hurt very much.  A few more weeds will sprout and the grass will be a little thinner but for the most part it will still look acceptable.  If the grass is not cut very short and only a third or less of the grass blade is cut off every time the grass is cut a good lawn can be maintained.  However, if the grass is allowed to get 8 -10 inches tall and then is cut to 2 inches the grass will fade away.  Grass will fade away very quickly if it is cut short.  The roots get too hot and they die.  If too much top is cut off after it is allowed to grow tall there is a shortage of blade (food manufacturing area) and the stored energy is slowly used up and again the plant dies.  This cannot be supplemented by fertilizing because it takes the plant time to absorb the nutrients and in the mean time it is using the nutrients that have been stored in the root system so the net outcome is not good for the grass plant.  The one nutrient that is absorbed by the plant quickly is nitrogen, once absorbed it stimulates a rush of top growth, once again depleting the energy store of the plant.  If your grass looks yellowish and is not growing a little bit of fertilizer may be necessary.  This should have very little nitrogen and more or less normal amounts of phosphorus and potash.  Something like 2-10-10 would be ok if put down very sparingly.  This particular fertilizer is probably hard or impossible to find so get as low of a nitrogen analysis as possible then apply very sparingly.

The summer weeds are starting to germinate so in the next 3-4 weeks it will be time to treat your lawn with a broadleaf weed killer.  This weed killer should have at the least the following three chemicals: 2,4-D (dimethylamine), Mercopropp (dimethylamine salt), and Dicamba (dimethylamine salt), in addition if the lawn contains some crabgrass the weed killer should have  Monosodium acid methanearsonate. 

Many or most of the lawn chemical companies have liquid or solid materials that contain the above ingredients.  Just look at the ingredients of the weed killer you are considering and make sure that at least the first three are there.  This combination will kill the following weeds (Bindweeds, Chickweed, Clover, Crabgrass, Creeping Charlie, Dallisgrass, Dandelion, Dichondra, Goosegrass, Henbit, Knotweed, Nutgrass, Oxalis, Plantains, Prickly Lettuce, Purslane, Sandbur, Speedwell, Spurge, Wild Geranium, Wild Onion).

Now that a lot of the flowering shrubs have finished blooming it is time to prune and fertilize.  Remember, pruning is not to be done unless the plant is growing oddly like branches that are very much longer than others on the same plant or the plant does not look good for some reason or the plant is too big.  Pruning stimulates the plant to grow, so light pruning may be detrimental for the future because it will make the plant send up branches called water spouts. These are branches that grow straight up and become quite tall.  These then have to be cut next year.  Always cut at a slant (so that water will not set on the wound), always cut next to a bud, cut out the weakest of two rubbing branches and always use very sharp and clean pruning shears. Pruning paint is not to be used because it covers the wound and allows microbes to live in the wet environment.  Up to one third of a plants green can be removed with out seriously hurting the plant.  This means that if a big plant is to be made smaller it will take three years to get it down to a more reasonable size.  Then of course yearly haircuts are necessary to keep it manageable.

Susan and Marshall Henry accompanied Pat and me to a Peony and Iris care symposium for the Chesterfield Master gardeners at the Joyce Lockatell Garden in Powhatan.  Mike Lockatell is an expert in growing Peonies and Iris, he has about 2-3 acres of plants that he breeds and sells.  In the Iris category a plant must have at least 7 buds and must branch, it must have enough strength in the flower stem to stay upright and preferably it will re-bloom at least one time after spring.   Once in a while an Iris that does not re-bloom will survive if it is exceptionally beautiful or large.  If the plants do not produce they arrive at the scrap heap never to appear again.  Mike treats his plants like children and is not particularly interested in selling off his prizes.  That being said both families purchased at least one or two specimens.   Several of his named plants have won state and national awards for best in show.

At least 30 varieties of Peony are in his collection of beautiful plants.  These include the Japanese, single, semi-double, double, bomb, and anemone.  Theses names describe the flower.  The single is a flower that has a single ring of petals that surround an open center, the semi-double have at least two rows of petals, most likely more,  surrounding a small center area, the doubles are completely covered with petals with no center visible.  
 


















Anemone



















Peony bomb type

 














 



Japanese Peony


One last comment both the Iris and Peony are Deer resistant.  You notice I did not say Deer Proof, they do not like the taste but if very hungry anything is game.

04/07/2009
The Forsythia is in bloom and you know what time it is.  It is time to put out the pre-emergence material to prevent unwanted grasses before you have to pull them or use a hoe to get rid of them.  This material will stop the sprouting of all types of seeds.  This includes the ones that you may want.  In addition to crabgrass, annual bluegrass is another “weed” that will be stopped.  Annual bluegrass is that short soft rather light green grass that seems to appear almost anywhere especially in and around flower beds and driveways.  It also grows seed heads when the grass is about 3 inches high but it can go to seed when the grass is less than 1 inch high.  They mature very quickly and can set in the ground for 2-3 years before they germinate.  This grass loves cool weather so it grows in early spring and during the fall through the winter.  Since it grows in the fall you must put down some pre-emergence in the fall after you renovated your lawn and before the ground temperature falls below 70 degrees F.  It will probably take several years to completely eliminate the annual blue grass (poa annua).

Poa Annua in all its glory, you see the hard packed ground in which it is growing.

There is still time to prune your plants.  Most have not started to form leaves yet so you should have at least a week or a week and one half to do the deed.  We just pruned some holly because it had over grown and looked like it should not look.  If you are going to prune a large branch off of a tree the best way to do it is to make the first cut from the bottom of the branch about 1 foot from the trunk to about 1/3 of the way through.  The next cut is about 2 to 6 inches further out on the branch, this time all the way through (this is done to eliminate splitting the branch all the way to the trunk).  The last cut is just outside the collar, normally about 1 to 3 inches from the trunk.  This will give a clean cut and the tree will grow a blocking layer of cells inside the collar so that diseases cannot enter the trunk.  In 2 to 3 years the wood inside the collar will rot and the tree will cover the wound with fresh wood.  Do not put wound dressing on the cut because this just invites bugs and diseases to grow under the dressing.
For those of you that want to have a garden this summer, it is time to get the plants that you will need and let them harden by putting them outside in the shade for several days.  Watch the weather reports and if the temperature is going to drop below 40 degrees either cover them or move them inside over night.  Most plants that endure temps, below 40 get stunted and will not produce properly.  This is especially true of tomatoes.   The exceptions are the cool weather plants such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage and of course peas.  Seeds should not be planted in dirt that is below 40 degrees.  Again there are exceptions such as potatoes which can be planted when the temp of the soil is at 40 degrees.

I have had several questions about transplanting shrubs in the spring.  In general shrubs and trees should be planted in the fall so that they have all winter to grow new roots and get used to being in a new location.  However, if you are careful, these plants can be planted in the spring and even early summer.  The secret is to dig a hole that is at least 2X the size of the dirt ball, and the root ball should be vertically scratched to prevent the roots from growing in a circle.  The hole should have a very firm convex bottom, the hole should be filled with water then the root ball is placed into the water and the dirt which was removed is firmly packed around the ball.  Remember to water this plant at least once per week.  It should survive as well as one planted in the fall.

This is the time of year that voles seem to be very hungry.  We had 4 of 9 camellias damaged to the point that they fell over.  There is very little that can be done to control these critters other that going down to the local RENT – A  - CAT store and getting one of those hungry felines that has the patience to set and wait for the vole to appear.  Of course the voles cannot dig tunnels but rather use the tunnels made by the moles.  To control moles is another very hard thing to do.  They don’t like to eat anything that is poisonous to them and they are completely herbivores.  So we must get rid of their food which includes worms and grubs.  We do not want to get rid of the worms so using grub killers only solves half the problem.  There is a new item on the market that uses worms that have been treated with a poison.  It is fairly expensive but at this point is not proven to be effective because it must be put in a tunnel that the mole uses every day.  It is available on the internet.

Another way to protect plants from being attacked by voles is to make a basket out of ½ or ¼  inch hardware cloth and plant the shrub in the basket.  The roots have room to grow out of the basket and the voles may eat the roots that grow out but there will be sufficient root medium to sustain the plant.  This is what my wife and I are doing to all of our plants from now on.

01/24/2009

I cannot believe that it is past the middle of January already.  It seems that fall was just here a week or two ago, but alas, time marches on and waits for no one especially yours truly.  I went to a very interesting seminar last week; it was concerning the so called ‘eastern redwood’ or more accurately the American chestnut (Castanea dentate)

This tree was probably the most plentiful in its growing zone.  This zone stretched from Mississippi to Maine and from Michigan to Virginia.  It was not known to be very plentiful in our area but just a little ways west of here, around Charlottesville it was very common.  It grew straight and tall -- up to 120 feet.  Some old pictures show trees of 10 to 12 feet in diameter. 
          

   























These photos were taken in the very early 1900’s and show 5 adults standing in front of a single tree and one adult standing between two other trees.  This gives one the scale of the trees growth. 

In the very late 1800’s a parasitic fungus - Cryphonectria parasitica   was imported from, you guessed it, China.  It was imported on some packing wood and off loaded in New York.  It quickly infected trees in New York.  According to Dr. William Murrill “The effects of the disease are even more disasterous than was at first supposed…It has swept like a tidal wave over the woodlands about New York City, leaving not a single native healthy tree standing.”- Dr. William Murrill (1911), New York Botanical Gardens.

At the start of the century it is estimated that over 3-4 billion chestnut trees were growing in the eastern United States and with in 50 years most all of these trees were dead.  It is interesting that the Cryphonectria fungus only attacks the trunk and not the root system.  This is why we still see young Chestnut trees growing in the woods from long gone large trees.  The Chestnut is trying very hard to overcome the disease by sprouting new life from its roots.  Of course these trees will get infected and will die.

There is some very good news on the horizon.  The Chestnut Foundation started a process of backcross breeding the American chestnut with the Asian chestnut.  The Asian chestnut has a natural resistance to the fungus.  But the tree is smaller and not nearly as majestic as the American variety.  By cross pollinating the American with the Asian, a 50% American tree is obtained.  This 50% tree is now cross pollinated with another 100% American this yields a 75% American.  Next this 75% American is cross pollinated with another 100% American, this yields an 88% American tree.   One more time the 88% American is cross pollinated with a 100 % American which yields a 94 % American tree.  Now two 94% trees are cross pollinated two times to see if the resistance is still intact.  All of this involves a total of 7 crosses.  The time necessary to do all of this cross breeding is about 10 years per cross or a total of 70 to 80 years.  The foundation is now at the point where the last cross is growing in various orchards of the state.  Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut are all working on this monumental task.  It is hoped that with in the next several years the magnificent chestnut will again grow in our forests.  





 
















It Is Time To

With the start of warmer weather it is time to start pruning the plants that do not bloom in the spring.  This includes basic plants around the house (holly, arborvitae, or any non blooming plant).  Up to 1/3 of the growth can be safely cut without hurting the plant.

Also the mulch pile needs to be turned so that the normal bacteria can do their work.  Remember that the mulch pile needs to be damp so give it a little water and maybe even a little fertilizer (like 3 or 4 large handfuls per foot of depth. 10-10-10.)

11/21/2008
I would say that fall/maybe winter is here.  The temperatures have been down to the 20’s several times in the past few days.  This means that the summer weeds that you were so upset about all summer are now DEAD.  The crabgrass has all but disappeared from our lawns and in its place is a dead patch of stringy grass.  Isn’t it wonderful how Mother Nature can do things in one day that you and I spend weeks trying to accomplish.  However, in the place of our beloved crabgrass is a host of other ‘grasses’ that most of us do not think are very nice.  Among these is the common chick weed or stellaria media.

   












A succulent prostrate plant that reproduces by seed that germinate in fall. Plants grow during the winter and produce white flowers and seed in the spring. All plant parts die by mid summer in sunny areas and lawns. Plants may persist somewhat longer in shady areas but usually die out completely before summer ends.  This is a succulent prostrate plant that reproduces by seed that germinate in fall. Plants grow during the winter and produce white flowers and seed in the spring. All plant parts die by mid summer in sunny areas and lawns. Plants may persist somewhat longer in shady areas but usually die out completely before summer ends.  The flowers all have 5 pedals that are split into halves so that it looks as if there are 10 pedals.  These plants are found almost anywhere. Common in lawns and flower beds, plants thrive in moist shady areas but are not restricted to those areas.  They grow very thick and will block out other plants.  Seeds are viable for several years.

Another plant that is common in our area is Henbit or Lamium amplexicaule.
 



















Henbit is a winter annual with square stems and pink-purple flowers.  The plant can reach 16 inches in height.   It is primarily a weed of turfgrass, landscapes and small grains.  It is found throughout the United States but is most common in the eastern states.  That is us folks.   The stems lie on the ground but have tips that are ascending (decumbent) they are green or often purple-tinged.  The stems root at the lower nodes, are square in cross section and are covered with downward-pointing hairs.
Another winter weed common to central Virginia is lawn burweed or soliva pterosperma.
























This weed is a low growing winter annual that forms a mat due to its branching properties. The leaves are opposite and divided into narrow segments or lobes. The flowers are small and inconspicuous. The fruit forms in the leaf axils with sharp spines. Lawn burweed reproduces by seed. It is found in the coastal plains regions from Florida to Texas.

These are but three of the many winter weeds that inhabit our lawns, driveways, gardens, and flower beds.  All can be dealt a mortal blow if sprayed with trimec combinations of 2,4-D, (MCPA or MCPP) and dicamba work well when sprayed on the yard. Just realize that it is the dicamba part that gets the henbit. The other two ingredients will get other weeds. Most of these come in fancy names like Ortho Weed- B-Gone or Scotts Lawn Weed Control.   You can also use granular substances but at this time of the year the spray is probably the most effective.  Yes this is the time of the year that you should spray for the winter weeds.  Pick a warm (45 to 55) day and follow the directions on the label.  This will rid your lawn of all those pesky weeds.

10/10/2008

The weather is getting cooler every day – do you have your lawn done?  It is still not too late to do what has to be done, but it is getting close.  If you have not punched those holes in the lawn yet you need to get started like NOW.  It takes at least 7 days for grass seed to germinate and the average frost date for this area is coming in about 2-3 weeks.  When the air is cool and night time temperatures go lower, then it takes longer for the seed to germinate.  Some may not germinate at all.  Hopefully we still have some good warm temps to make our grasses grow. 

It is time for the second application of fertilizer.  Our lawn analysis told us that we needed a number of pounds of fertilizer per 1000 sq. ft. and we administered 1/3 of that amount last month.  Well, it is time for the second third of that amount to be spread on the lawn.  With the rains that we have had in the past few weeks most if not all lawns look as good as they have since spring.  If you put the first application of fertilizer on last month the lawn looks terrific. With the addition of the next amount the lawn will store the food for next spring and summer.  The third application in either November or December will set your lawn up for a bang up season.

Some of you are avid fishermen, and some of you have ponds on your land that may have a few fish in them.  Some ponds in Virginia have a very big problem because they do not have adequate flow through them to keep them clean.  Most ponds become filled with weeds, decaying vegetable matter, and silt.  When this happens they do not look good and they get unusable for fish and irrigation.  I found a real treasure trove of information concerning ponds and fishing holes, if you are interested the URL is as follows:


Also here is another pdf that you can look at:
http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/fishing/weedid/

I ran across an article here the other day that was very interesting to me.  It is about trees and the injuries they receive.    We always used to feel that tree wounds needed to be covered with tar or some other sticky substance but researchers have found that just leaving the wound alone is by far the best solution, because of a chemical (hormone) that is present in trees. 

Click Here to Read:  Trees — Heal Thyself By Stacy Kish.


09/08/2008: 

Well it is that time again, fall.  The kids are in school, high school football is starting as is professional, and the nights are getting a little cooler and the Sycamore Trees (Acer pseudo-platanus) is starting to turn yellow.  Even the Dogwood trees are starting to show buds for next spring’s flowers.  This means that if you want to have world class lawn next year you need to probably do something this fall.  Last month I urged everyone to get a soil test and I’m sure that you did so you are in the drivers’ seat to get a good lawn.  My neighbor had his soil tested and found that the pH was 4.5 (almost acid enough to remove scale from steel).  The recommendation was to put almost 200 pounds of lime per 1000 sqft.   Also another recommendation was 10 pounds of 0-0-60, his lawn had very little to no potash.  He was always wondering why his grass did not survive even moderate low water levels.  Potash is very necessary to good healthy roots.  It just goes to show that if he would have just put a balanced fertilizer like 10-10-10 he would not have put enough potash on the ground.  He said that he had not put lime on the lawn for several years so it was not surprising that the pH was very low.  He used a core aerator, put down 1/3 of all lime and fertilizer and all of the seed, now he is watering lightly two times a day.  I hope that the heavy rain that is supposed to come this weekend will not wash things away.  If it does not he will have a good lawn next year.

I’m fairly certain that most of our lawns are infested with some sort of weed at this time of the year.  Most of these weeds will die at the first frost so we really do not have to worry about them now.  However, next spring all of those healthy seeds will burst into growth and we will have more than we have this year.  Well lets worry about that next spring.  What we have to concern ourselves with now are the winter weeds.  This October and November we will have to spray for these problems.  More on that next month.

Bugs to look out for are listed on the VT web site http://www.idlab.ento.vt.edu/IDLab/scouting/scout_august.html   please look at the site it will give you a good indication of why your garden is looking a bit sparse.  It also identifies fruit tree problems.

Mites are a big problem when the weather is hot and dry.  They are hard to control and very hard to see.  However the damage they cause is quite easy to see.  The plant leaves become speckled with yellow spots and if you hold a sheet of white paper under the leaves and shake the branch you will see a bunch of usually red spots moving around on the paper.  Insecticidal soap is very effective as is Kelthane. Acephate (Orthene) is also very effective.  In either case the plant must be completely drenched including the underside of the leaf and stem.  Of course follow the directions on the container because more is not better.

If you are contemplating planting a new tree or bush in your yard, fall is the ideal time to do this because the plant has all fall and winter to grow roots to support the spring growth of leaves.  If you want a good plant that will most likely survive don’t buy it where you buy your nuts, bolts, and wire.  Go to a reputable green house and look at the plants carefully.  If they do not look healthy then do not buy them.  The last thing you need is having to nurse a plant all fall and winter only to have it die and then you have to find your receipt, dig up the plant, then take it to the green house.  A lot of problems occur when the plant is not planted correctly.  It should be planted a little higher than it was in the field and the hole that is dug should be at least 2X the diameter of the root ball.  The hole should not be so deep that you have to put dirt back into the hole to get the plant to set at the correct height.  If you see evidence of root girdling make sure that these are straighten out or cut so that they do not just grow in a circle there by not branching out to give support and nutrients to the plant.  Sometime if the soil is poor it is advantageous to amend the soil with mulch.  Of course water often for the first year. 

Fall is a time to work out in the yard because, one it is cooler and two it is the time that plants do not mind being moved.


07/30/2008:

I know that it is still hot, as my dad used to say “It’s hot as a firecracker out there”, but it will be getting cooler soon—in about a month.   We need to start getting ready for fall grass revitalization.  I’m quite sure that most of you had your soil tested this season.  If you have not done it there is still time to do the deed.  If you have not put down fertilizer or lime for the past three months just pick about 8 or 10 spots in the lawn and dig up a small sample from each spot, about 3 to 6 inches under the surface.  It really is not very important if the sample comes from 2 inches or 6 inches, just so it is under the grass roots not among them.  Put all of the samples in a bag or a bucket and mix all the samples together removing rocks, grass, wood or other debris as you mix.  Put about a pound or two into another bag, this will be your sample.  Deliver it to the testing lab by the Chesterfield Airport.  Pay them about $20.00 per sample and in a week you will get a report from them telling you how much nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, and lime to add to the soil.  They will also tell you the pH of your soil.  If you need additional micronutrients they will also indicate which and how much to add.  Normally the lab will tell you how many pounds of nutrient are to be added to each 1000 sqft.  If they do not do this then use the formulas below.

HOW MUCH TO APPLY

  1. Measure Area to be fertilized.  2. Determine how much nutrient is needed.  3.  Determine the ratio and closest analysis.
MEASURE

1.      Do not Guess.  2.  Measure how many sqft. Of area need fertilizer

·         Rectangle length x width

·         Triangle  length x height /2

·         Circle 3.14 x radius x radius    (Radius is ½ of diameter.)

HOW MUCH NUTRIENT FOR 3500 sq. ft.

Lawn recommendation is 2 lb nitrogen per 1000 sq. ft.    ( 3500/1000= 3.5)

Therefore  3.5 X 2lb nitrogen = 7.0 lbs nitrogen need for the entire area.

RATIO & ANALYSIS

Recommended ratio is 3-1-2  

Nearest analysis is 18-6-12   This means that 18% of the product is nitrogen or 0.18.

7.0 lbs N needed for the area

7.0/0.18 = 38 + pounds of the 18-6-12 product is needed for the 3500 sq. ft.

How much other nutrient was added.

38 pounds of fertilizer was added therefore 38 X 0.6 = 2.28 lbs Phosphorus was added.  This is 2.28/3500 = 0.651 lb P 2 Oper 1000 sq. ft. and 38 X 0.12 = 4.56 lbs of potassium was added to the area or 4.56/3.5 = 1.3 lbs per 1000 ft sq.  Normally the report will tell you that you need 5.0 lbs of N2  and 2.5 lbs of P2O5 and 3.0 lbs potassium per 1000 sq. ft  Following our formulas 5.0/2.5 =2,    2.5/2.5 = 1,     3.0/2.5 =1.2  or a ratio of 2-1-1.2, well a fertilizer like this does not exist.  Oh my gosh !!!!  What do we do now?   Gosh it is not really a large problem if we understand that it does not need to be exact.  The amount of nutrients is a range so something like 10-5-5 or 20-10-10 can be used or you can mix your own formula.  Mixing your own is probably not the best idea because you probably will not mix it properly and will put varying amounts in different part of the yard.  If this gives you a royal pain in you know what send me an E-mail and I will help.

BUGS FOR AUGUST

The bugs have had a good season this year, they are everywhere.  If you are interested in what to look for on various crops use the following hypertext to get to a Virginia Tech web site that gives you a good indication of what the present problem bugs are up to in your garden

http://www.ento.vt.edu/Facilities/OnCampus/IDLab/scouting/scout_august.html

FALL PLANTING OF VEGTABLES

Our average date for the first killing frost is October 15 th.   This gives us a time to shoot for to plant fall veggies.  This means that we can plant beets, carrots, cauliflower, collards, cucumbers, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, onion seed (for spring harvest), radish, and turnips.  Of course there are other veggies that I have not mentioned but as long as the maturity date is more than 90 days ahead of Oct. 15 go ahead and plant it.  We have been going a little later before the frost hits so take a chance.


07/06/2008:

At this time of the year we notice that either some of our or our neighbors trees are looking a little weird.  They just do not have the color or some other trait that makes them look normal.  Of course many things could be causing this abnormality, especially lack of moisture.  It could be a disease or a bug that has infested the tree. 

The county of Chesterfield has just trained 14 Urban Tree Specialists that will come out to your house or lot to look at the problem free of charge.  These are MasterGarders that have taken an Urban Tree Management course designed to diagnose common ills of urban trees.  This is a brand new service that is being advertised by ‘word of mouth’ and has not been formally announced to the public.  It will be featured later after it is determined if the benefit is as good as expected.  The service has some criteria that need to be met for a site visit.  1.  The Mastergarders will not make hazard assessments such as a clients concern about a tree falling into a house, power lines or your neighbors property.  In that case you will be referred to a certified arborist.  Also, if the problem can be analyzed with a sample delivered to the office or a Library an Urban Specialist MG will not come out.  If however, the problem is just general decline or is several associated problems or is on a part of the tree that makes it impossible to bring in a sample then the Urban Specialist MG will come out.  In order to avail yourself of this service simply call 751-4401 (this is the county extension office) and ask for the Mastergarder or Susan Edwards, ( ANR Technician & Master Gardner Coordinator), email edwardssu@chesterfield.gov.     Another way is to contact me and I will set the wheel in motion is to send your email to: tar1942003@yahoo.com.  This is for Chesterfield county and some small parts of Richmond.    

We are getting to the time of the year when our lawns are showing the signs of summer, either all brown or a weird bluish green color that is a harbinger of nasty things to come.  Tall fescue, the grass that most of us have in our yards, will go dormant in hot dry weather and will look like a real disaster but in the fall when the rains start to come, usually during the time the county and state fair are going on, the grass will green up and look great.  Of course if you water at least 1” per week the grass will continue to grow and will stay green.  A few tips to insure your lawn has the best chance to survive:

  • Reduce traffic of the lawn or spread the necessary traffic across as wide an area as possible
  • DO NOT apply nitrogen fertilizers or pesticides.
  • Water early in the morning so the grass dries off before evening, this reduces the likelihood that disease will attack the lawn.
  • Water infrequently and deeply, avoiding light sprinklings
  • Water a little more next to buildings and other heat reflecting surfaces
  • Mow only with a sharp blade
  • Raise the mowing height to the highest setting on your lawnmower
  • Mow often enough that you cut only the top 1/3 of the grass blades
  • Leave the clippings on the lawn they are the only fertilizer that the grass needs.
Where water is restricted a different set of guide lines is put into effect. 

Just as trees prepare for winter by shedding their leaves, grass has multiple ways to protect itself from adverse weather. If you are ready to accept this way of life and many homeowners do, then here is the ticket:

  • Apply the available water only to a select area of the lawn that is most meaningful to the landscape
  • Apply no water to the lawn, allowing it to naturally go dormant and turn tan or brown.
Either of the above choices are workable and will protect your lawn.  In any case a restriction of traffic on the lawn is very necessary because the grass cannot withstand the additional damage. 

Turf grass scientist have proven that more lawn are damaged or destroyed from over-watering than under-watering and that it is better to restrict irrigation than to intensively irrigate for a portion of a drought period and then miss several weeks.  Brown lawns may actually be stronger than improperly watered lawns.

How does your garden grow?  Hanover county tomatoes are in the stores and in fruit stands all over the area so are yours ready yet?  Most gardeners planted their tomatoes in April or May so the fruit on them is growing and is still green.  It is always a need to get a ripe tomato by the 4th of July.  Well it normally is just a need because most of us do not accomplish the deed.  My tomatoes are still at least 2 weeks from picking. 

This is time that the tomato horn worm(Manduca quinquemaculata ) starts to devour the foliage on your plants.  This guy is big, about ¾ inch in diameter and about 3 inches long.  He is green like the plant and is very hard to spot if your plants have a lot of foliage.  The best way to get rid of this pest is to pick him off and put him in a little ammonia.  Of course if you find one that looks as if it has white spots on its body he is dead and does not know it yet.  A small braconid wasp lays its eggs on the worm and the white spots are the cocoons of this wasp, the wasp will destroy the worm as it pupates.

This is the worm; notice the red horn on the anterior.
 

04/17/2008:
I think that spring is finally here the last frost was last night.  Remember you heard it here – of course I could be wrong but most likely the frost which we could get will be one that most plants can tolerate.  It is time to start planting your garden.  If you started tomatoes inside about 6 weeks ago they can probably be put into the ground if you have a protected area. In a couple of weeks it will not make any difference.  The Tomatoes are probably the last thing that you want to put in the garden – well maybe peppers also.  I normally just purchase started tomatoes but I do start my own peppers.  This year I have started four different types of sweet peppers. 

Since it is getting warm our favorite pests, the bugs, are going to come out shortly.  Some have already shown up one fruit trees and other ornamentals in our yards.  I have have provided a link for a list of critters, their hosts and what they attack from an article written by Eric R. Day.  He is the Va. Tech. Entomologist and the best person in Virginia to identify any bug that we see in Va.  Bugs come out or hatch according to the accumulation of degree days during the spring of the year.  Each bug has its own time and need for heat so the bugs come out at different times.  If you have any questions about this list please either call or E-mail me and we can discuss.

Click Here to view Eric R. Day's Insects to be on the Lookout for in May.


03/30/2008

Time goes by so swiftly; it is already March 30 and spring is essentially around the corner.  Most of the lawns have greened up even though people have done nothing to make it so.  Of course others have poured on the Weed and Feed with little thought to, is the fertilizer needed at this time.  Just to answer that question – it is not required and it probably will cause some damage to the grass because it will force it to grow very rapidly.  The home owner will have to cut grass two times per week and when the summer drought comes about the grass will have used up all its energy reserves and will poop out.  Don’t get me wrong, some lawns do need a little fertilizer in the spring but the amount is very small, less than 1 pound per 1000 ft2. 

It is time for the pre-emergence crabgrass preventer.  The yellow forsythia is in full bloom almost everywhere so it is the ideal time to put down the pre-emergence.  Now make sure that you use the material with NO fertilizer.  I know that this is hard to find because the chemical companies make more money by selling you a mixture.   I think that Southern States still has some and probably Pleasants Hardware will have some.

I’ll bet some of you are going to plant a garden this spring.  It is time to get ready to plow up that little piece of earth and fortify it with mulch from last years leaves or chopped up junk that was collected all last summer.  The first thing that should be planted is a thermometer.  If the ground is not at 40 degrees it is still too cold to plant seeds.  Other things that you need to consider are: what do you want to grow, where do you want to have the garden, is water available, how many hours of sun shine will be available to the garden?  Also do you want to start seeds in flats and then transplant or do you want to seed directly in the garden.  Most seeds need to be planted after the last frost date which for this area is about mid April. 

Your garden needs to be in an area that has 8 – 10 hours of sun each day.  It does not need to be large, many gardeners use raised beds to grow vegetables, and these are typically about 4 ft by 8 ft. They are constructed with 2 x 6 or 2 x 10 lumber with small posts in the corners.  In our area we have a lot of voles that really enjoy a good meal of fresh tender roots so I normally dig out about 4 – 6 inches of dirt inside the bed area and put a layer of rat wire on the ground and up about 3 – 4 inches inside the enclosure.  This material is easy to bend and comes in 4 ft wide strips.  Then fill the enclosure with a mixture of the dirt you removed and mulch from your mulch pile.  If you are going to be short of soil a few bags of soil from the local nursery will help or another place to get soil is when you trench around your flower beds use the dirt from those trenches to mix into the raised bed. 

Now it is time to find out if the soil in your garden needs to be amended with fertilizer and or lime.  You can take a sample of the dirt to a testing laboratory like the one over by the Airport or you can purchase one of the do it yourself soil test kits that are available.  Vegetables need soil pH of 6.2 to 6.8 to grow properly.  This is just ever so slightly on the acid side of neutral.  If you take your sample to the laboratory and tell them that it is for a garden they will specifically tell you the number of pounds of a specific kind of fertilizer to use.  Once the balance has been established it will be good for 2 – 3 years, especially if some vegetable scraps are mixed in to the soil during the year.  Soon the dirt will become brown/black and will be able to grow most anything. 

Well now the garden is set up to receive seeds or transplants.  There are easy to grow vegetables and there are harder to grow vegetables.  The easy ones include asparagus, beans, beets, and cabbage.  The intermediate ones include broccoli, cauliflower, and eggplant.  The hardest ones are Brussels sprouts, collards and garlic.  Of course there are others and they fit into these various categories.  From the easiest to the hardest is not a large difference if you pay attention to what is going on in the garden. 

There are pests that need to be dealt with during the summer and there are animals (rabbets, squirrels) that will try to interfere with the growing of the garden but the reward is extremely tasty veggies that you grew yourself.

Some problems that you might see in your garden and some solutions with the product in ().

TOMATOES

•         tomato hornworms (Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt), aphids(insecticidal soap), whiteflies(Esfenvalerate wait one day to harvest), Colorado potato beetle(Esfenvalerate), cutworms(plant inside a paper cup with its bottom cut out), flea beetles(Esfenvalerate)  Trade names for the new product, esfenvalerate, include Asana XL, Halmark, and Sumi-alfa. The compound may also be listed as S-fenvalerate

•         Diseases: Septoria leaf spot(copper hydroxide by Hi-yeild), late blight, Fusarium wilt( plant resistant varieties), verticillium wilt(plant resistant varieties), bacterial wilt(use sevin to control striped or spotted beetle from planting to harvest)

•           Cultural Problems: blossom end rot( lack of calcium)

BEANS          

•         Pests: bean beetles(Sevin or Esfenvalerate), aphids(Esfenvalerate), leafhoppers(Sevin or esfenvalerate), seedcorn maggot(Esfenvalerate or Sevin) spider mites(Insecticidal soap).

•         Diseases: bacterial blight(Sevin to control beetle), common mosaic( no cure for virus), white mold(keep garden weed free white mold uses weeds for hosts)

•         Reduce disease by not working among wet plants

Next time I will talk more about common garden veggies.


03/04/2008
I attended the Henrico County “Short Course” about three weeks ago.   This course addresses several topics, among which are managing healthy water for the James River, planting and transplanting trees, what to do about trees in a construction area, and picking trees that will do well in our area and of course will be an asset to our yards.  Two of the presentations were of particular interest to me and I hope you will also be interested. 

Many species of trees will grow very well in our area of the Costal Plain, and it is necessary to imagine what the tree will look like in 10 to 15 years.  It is also necessary to imagine what it is the tree will bring to your yard.  That is besides leaves that must be raked in the fall.  Does your plan call for large lofty trees, small conifers, spring blooming, summer blooming, fall color, interesting bark, interesting shape, or any one of the large number of things that a tree can bring to your yard. 

Maple Trees:  There are numerous cultivars of this variety of trees that grow anywhere from 15 feet to 60 feet tall.  Most all have good fall color and some are very drought resistant.  Some grow very fast others grow slowly.  One or two seem to be extremely attractive for house hold use.  The Norwegian Sunset Maple (Acer truncatum x platanoides) grows to 30 – 40 feet and about 25 feet wide.  Fall color is extremely brilliant yellow-orange to red in fall. 

The Trident Maple (Acer buergeranum) grows to 35 feet tall by 20 feet wide.  It has 3 inch tri-lobed leaves that turn various shades of yellow, red, and orange in the fall.  In addition it has flowers in the spring that are brilliant yellow and very showy.

One other is the Three-flowered Maple (Acer Triflorum) this one has very interesting bark.


             Three flowered maple.



If you need to plant something under a power line it is best to plant something that will not cause the power company to give it a flat top cut.  Very few things are less attractive then a beautiful tree that has had the center cut out of it or one that has been cut flat. 

The Fox Valley (tm) River Birch (Betula nigra Little King) is considered a shrub since it grows only 12 to 15 feet tall but it fits under power lines and looks interesting.

This is the classic look of the river birch without the height  that is normally associated with the normal birch.

               River Birch


A Corneliancherry Dogwood (Cornus mas ‘Spring Glow’) grows to about 15 feet tall and 12 feet wide.  It has yellow flowers in the spring and red edible fruit in the summer and fall.  The leaves are sort of leathery and turn red after frost. The plant is easily transplanted and can be pruned to a shape.  It is not very drought tolerant.

Big back yard trees can be Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron Tulipifera – Little Volunteer) or a Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) or and Altee ™ Elm (Ulmus Parvifolia ‘emerald vase’).  All of these trees grow to at least 40 feet tall and may reach 70 to 80 feet.  It is very important to have a large space for these trees to grow.

There are hundreds of trees that can be grown in our area the above are just a very small sample of the joy that can be had by growing a tree. 

Now on to another subject, it is getting close to spring so we need to begin the spring ritual again.  The shrubs that grew all summer are looking a little like they need a hair cut well it is time to prune those bushes.  Of course do not prune anything that will flower this spring because the buds for the flowers are already there and will be cut off if you prune now.  Azalea and rhododendron are pruned after they bloom.  Roses need to be cut so that only good sturdy canes are left and are cut to about 2 foot in length.

When the forsythia starts to bloom in your neighborhood it is time to put down some pre- emergence crab grass preventer, but it is not necessary to put down any fertilizer at this time.  If you do two things will happen  1. The grass will wake up and grow like gang-busters and 2. most of the fertilizer will wash away to the river.

Of course it is time to remove the accumulated leaves around the ditch, fence and the plants.  Put them in a mulch pile for the summer so that you can use the mulch this fall for any number of projects.

Waiting for summer.


01/24/2008
It is mid January and cutting grass is a little hard when there is an inch or two of snow covering the ground.  Besides, you would have to wear your fur jacket and pants to keep warm.  Neither one of these is conducive to a pleasant experience in lawn management.  It is much more fun to take a long walk, watch the birds at your feeder, or going sledding with your son, daughter, or grandkids (that is if there is enough snow).  As far as I know there is very little to do with the yard at this time.  Oh well, you can always turn over the mulch pile and water it so that it is all uniformly damp.  The micro organisms will love you for this as they feast on the refuse of last summer’s bounty.

We have all heard and talked about native plants but what are native plants?  In North America, plant species are generally described as native if they occurred here prior to European settlement. This distinction is made because of the large-scale changes that have occurred since the arrival of the European settlers. The Europeans imported many plants to this country, many are still the major component of traditional lawns and gardens. They also include many beneficial plants important in farming, such as vegetables and grains. Today, approximately 25% of flowering plants in North America are non-natives or alien species, most of Eurasian origin.

All plants are native to some region, and offer a variety of ecological and economic benefits. In fact, many alien species are beneficial, providing food and other valuable resources to society. It is only when a species is “out of place” that we become concerned. In these instances, invasive alien plants can pose a serious threat to biodiversity. Due to a lack of natural controls such as insect pests and competitors, some alien plants can easily become established in new areas. Once established, alien plant species can out compete and displace the native plant species, disrupting ecological processes and significantly degrading entire plant communities. Many invasive plants spread quickly and grow so densely that other species cannot get established in areas infested by these alien plant species. Common native plants can be crowded out, or their populations threatened due to hybridization with escaped ornamentals. Endangered species may be driven from their last habitats by invasive alien plant species. Aquatic invasive species can clog waterways, disrupt groundwater flows, degrade water quality, and lead to dramatic changes in native plant and animal communities. This has happened in many states including my home state of Minnesota.  Someone pitched an aquariam that had a plant called milfoil growing in it (Eurasian watermilfoil Myriophyllum spicatum ) The milfoil was used to provide hiding places for small fish.  It is a very good looking plant but it grows like the souths kudzu.   The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources  is making some head way in controling the plant but it is still a very large problem.  This is just one of hundreds of cases where non-native plants have caused untolled problems.

If you are going to plant some new trees or shrubs this coming year give serious consideration to native plants. There are a host of reasons that this is a good idea.  Native trees and plants display excellent fall color, several have spring flowers that are fantastic, some like the oak leaf hydrangea thrive in the shade, in filtered light areas bee balm and yarrow form an eye catching spot, in wet ground elderberry will attract butterflies, hardy genraniums will thrive in the harshest sun conditions and they are fragrant.  Since these plants are native they will require less fertilizer and water then other plants.  A list of native plants can be obtained from the Virginia Native Plant Society (http://www.vnps.org/floraofva.html).  

In doing the research for this piece I ran across a page in the Virginia Tech. web that can be used to identify grasses and weeds.  It can be accessed with the following address http://www.ppws.vt.edu/weedindex.htm.   It works in the following way:  pull a plant out of the ground, roots and all, then come to the web page and answer the questions.  By the time you get to the end it will tell you the name of the weed or grass.  Good luck – if you have problems give me a call and we will work it out together.


12/23/2007

Well I’m sure that everyone has noticed that the end of the year is coming and that means Christmas, low balances in the check book, high balances on the Visa card, low amounts of sleep due to parties, and high weight gain due to parties.  Football games are becoming or have become commonplace almost every night of the week leading up to New Years day when we have at least four games to choose from to sooth the head ache from the night before.  You might ask where is this going – well really nowhere, I was just trying to point out in a really obtuse way that not much needs to be done right now with the lawn or the garden. 

If there was anything still growing in your garden it has long since frozen, except maybe for cabbage, mine is still doing great.  As far as the lawn is concerned, it has been cut fertilized, aerated, winter weeds have been sprayed, and the leaves have been removed or mulched into the lawn.  Now we turn our thoughts to enjoying ourselves.  Before we get too comfortable remember your tools and power equipment.  The gasoline engines either need to be emptied of ALL gas or a good stabilizer needs to be added to the gasoline.  Gasoline goes bad with age, not that it will not burn, it leaves a shellac like substance in the carburetor if left for a long time (probably around 3 months), and the stabilizer helps to prevent this from happening.  Of course if the machine was run out of gas the last time it was used it is safe.  The hand tools should be cleaned and oiled so that next spring they will be ready to use.

I’m fairly sure that about 90% of you have or will get one or more Poinsettias for the holidays.  The scientific name for this plant is Euphorbia pulcherrima which means literally “very beautiful” it was known by the Aztecs as "Cuetlaxochitl"  Montezuma, the last of the Aztec kings, would have poinsettias brought into what now is Mexico City by caravans because poinsettias could not be grown in the high altitude.  Joel Roberts Poinsett was the first United States Ambassador to Mexico being appointed by President John Quincy Adams in the 1820's. At the time of his appointment, Mexico was involved in a civil war. Because of his interest in botany he introduced the American elm into Mexico. During his stay in Mexico he wandered the countryside looking for new plant species. In 1828 he found a beautiful shrub with large red flowers growing next to a road. He took cuttings from the plant and brought them back to his greenhouse in South Carolina. Even though Poinsett had an outstanding career as a United States Congressman and as an ambassador he will always be remembered for introducing the poinsettia into the United States.  A few interesting facts about poinsettias are:

·         In nature, poinsettias are perennial flowering shrubs that can grow to ten feet tall.

·         The showy colored parts of poinsettias that most people think are the flowers are actually colored bracts (modified leaves).

·         Poinsettias are priced according to the number of blooms. The more blooms, the more expensive the plant.

·         The flowers or cyathia of the poinsettia are in the center of the colorful bracts.

·         Poinsettias have been called the lobster flower and flame leaf flower.

·         Poinsettias are not poisonous.

Just in case you are interested, you can make the poinsettia flower again next year.  It is a little difficult but doable if you follow the directions put out by the University of Illinois extension service.

Late Winter - Early Spring

  • Cut back each of the old flowering stems to 4 to 6 inches in height. Do this in February or early March. This will promote new growth.
Late Spring - Summer

  • Repot into a 2-3 inches in diameter larger pot. Make sure the soil mass is moistened and place in a sunny window. When all danger of frost has passed and night temperature are above 60°F the plant can be placed outdoors. Place the poinsettia in a shady location for two to three weeks to allow it to become acclimated to the new environment. Then sink the pot in a sunny protected outdoor flower bed. Light shade during the afternoon is okay.
  • Turn the poinsettia pot regularly to prevent rooting through the bottom hole. It is suggested that a quarter turn each week will prevent this and will also help to keep the plant growth even all around the pot. If the pot is not turned, one side may get more sun than the other.
  • If you prefer a short plant with many flowers, pinch out the growing shoots to encourage branching. Pinching should produce more flowers and a nice bushy plant. This should be done at 3 to 4 week intervals, according to the speed of growth. Pinch out the top 1/4 inch by hand. Two or three large fully expanded leaves should be left below the pinch; this serves as a guide for knowing when the shoots are ready for pinching. Continue this practice until mid- August, when the plant should have a satisfactory shape and number of shoots.
  • Keep the plant growing actively all summer by regular watering and feeding every two weeks with a complete soluble fertilizer (20-20-20).
Fall

  • Before night temperatures fall below 55-60°F at night, bring the poinsettia indoors to a sunny location. Check for pests and diseases and place poinsettia in a south window.
  • Flowering is "photoperiodically" induced in the poinsettia. This means that flowers begin to form when the days are a certain length, or, more accurately, when the nights are long enough. The poinsettia is a short-day or long-night plant. Without long nights, this plant will continue to produce leaves and will grow but will never flower. You must make certain it receives no light from any source.
  • Very short periods of lighting at night may be enough to prevent or interfere with flowering. Even light from a street light can stop flowering. If the plant is to be grown in a room that is lighted nightly, cover it completely at dusk (5p.m.) every day with a heavy paper bag, a piece of opaque black cloth, other light-tight cover or place in a dark closet.
  • Flower initiation begins in late September and early October. Dark periods longer than 12 hours are necessary for flower set. Flowers mature in from 60 to 85 days depending on varieties, temperature and light intensity.
  • Because flower initiation depends upon the length of the dark period, your poinsettia must be kept completely dark from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. The time to give this treatment is from the end of September until December 15.
  • Once you can see the flowers developing in the growing plants, i. e., when the floral bracts start to show definite color, it is not as important to continue giving the dark period, though it is advisable to continue until the bracts are almost fully expanded.
  • Temperatures should be no less than 55°F at night, but not more than 70°F. During the day give the poinsettia as much sunlight as possible.
  • Reduce the amount of fertilizer given after bringing the plant indoors. Growth is slower in the lower light intensity inside the house.
  • High night temperatures, coupled with low-light intensity, low nutrition, dry soil or improper
photoperiod may delay maturity
Below is a close up of a red poinsettia:




11/15/2007

It is now mid November and most of our garden activities are going to be over for several weeks while the earth takes a rest from all of the growing that occurred during the preceding few months.  All that is left now is to clean up the garden, rake the leaves, and turn our mulch piles again.  One other thing that could still be done is to put the last application of fertilizer on the lawn.  This needs to be done fairly quickly or it will be too late and the lawn food will not have the desired effect.  It needs to be done by the end of November. The amount should be according to the fertilizer directions on the bag.  This last application can be the weed & feed type.  This will get rid of those nasty winter weeds.  Of course, you can use a liquid spray that contains 2,4,D and diCamba mixed according to the directions.  Remember if a little is good a lot is better does not apply.  The company that manufactures the chemical is required to tell you how to use it and by purchasing the chemical you join into a contract to do it properly -- in effect if you do not follow the directions you could be breaking the law.  It might also keep you from being injured.  That being said, most all chemicals sold for general use do not have a great susceptibility for injuring the user.  All pesticides fall into the following four categories: Caution, Warning, Danger, Danger-poison (and the skull and crossbones symbol). The general use chemicals are in the Caution category. Anything greater than that category is usually restricted to use by professionals trained to use the chemical.  These categories must be displayed on the label, the one exception is on chemicals that fall into the caution category - they do not need to be labeled as caution.  This concludes my safety soapbox.

Now on to some fun things. How would you like to have a plant that blooms for six to eight weeks every year, has from 3 to 20 blossoms, and is quite easy to grow?  Well, if you have a south facing window or even a window that gets good light during the day, you can grow this plant.  What I’m talking about is an Orchid more specifically a Phalaenopsis Orchid.  This is commonly called the Moth Orchid because the blossom looks something like a moth.  Colors go from pure white to red to green and any combination of these colors.  Below is a picture of a Phalaenopsis with several different colors in the background.


Phalaenopsis in full bloom.

Growing conditions are quite simple bright light but not direct sun during the afternoon but morning and evening sun is okay.  Water two times per week fertilize two times per month and if your house is very dry during the winter either set the pot on stones in a saucer and leave water among the stones or lightly mist the plant once per day.

The flowers will form on a spike that grows from under one of the large leaves - there can be two or even three spikes growing at one time.  Flower buds will form on the top one third of the spike.  Once they start to open they will open at a rate of one to two per day until all buds are open.  They will then last for a minimum of three weeks and if watered and fertilized properly will last up to three months.

Fertilizer requirements are a balanced product of 14-14-14 during the year and a 10-30-20 during flowering time. The higher phosphorus level is for bloom health and vigor.  Both of these fertilizers are available at most greenhouses that sell orchids.

Where do you purchase an orchid?  I would not purchase one where you purchase your hardware or where you purchase your food. I  have seen orchids at both establishments.  Rather you should purchase from a good greenhouse or an orchid grower. There are several growers in central Virginia. I f you purchase a plant that is blooming you of course know what it looks like.  You will however, pay a premium for this knowledge. If you go to a grower he can tell you what the small 4 inch potted orchid will most likely look like. If it is a clone it will be just like its parent but if it is a cross it will be labeled as such and it will be rather difficult to tell exactly what it will look like. For your first plant it would be wise to purchase one from a grower.

For the most part orchids are pest free, however, orchids do get pests such as aphids, mealybugs, mites, and scale they can all be removed with a soft cloth and some soapy water.  If you use a chemical make sure that you follow the directions to the letter.

The phalaenopsis orchids are the most user-friendly of all the orchids.  If you can grow any plant indoors you can grow moth orchids.  Good Growing.

10/08/2007
Now that your major lawn work is complete -- it is isn’t it? It is time to do something about that perennial bed in your yard. If it looks somewhat like mine it has quite a few weeds, the flowers need to be dead headed, and some of the bulb type flowers need to be trimmed and divided. There is no easy one step method to clean up a flower bed. It takes some getting into the dirt to make things happen. The first thing to do is weed. Get in there and pull those nasty weeds or if things are in rows or clumps you may be able to use your trusty hoe. Which ever way you attack do it with gusto, if you meet a green thing that may or may not be a weed look around and see if there are any other green things that look exactly like the one under your hand. If there are, most likely it is a keeper so skip it for now and work on the things that are really weeds. Common Bermuda grass is trying to take over my patch so I’m pulling the rhizomes to the best of my ability and will spray a specific chemical called Terflon Ester to hold the grass in check. As you all know common Bermuda is a very active grass and will invade most any area that does not have a very heavy turf of some other grass.

Once you have cleaned out the bed you now need to prune the flowers down to the first green leaf or stem. Some flowers have died back to ground level and these you should just remove the leaves gently so as not to disturb the root. The detritus from these plants should be bagged and discarded along with the weeds that were pulled. Putting this material into the mulch pile could give you a problem next year when you use the soil if it did not get hot enough in the pile.

Now it is time to divide the tulips, narcissus - some may call them daffodils, and iris. With tulips you may not have to do anything because in this area they are considered annuals. Our hot dry conditions in the summer and very little cold weather in the winter makes them disappear after one or two years of growth. If you want to keep a specimen plant dig it up immediately after the leaves start to turn brown and store in a cool dry location until about mid December then put into a cold place such as a refrigerator for 6 weeks before planting again.

Narcissus and daffodils grow from bulbs. The new plant produces a new bulb during the growing season after it has been visited by a bee or other pollinator. After all of the plants have been dug up and properly trimmed till the soil and amend with soil from your mulch pile. If you have very hard soil, I think some people call it clay, mix in a good amount of the mulch then till into the soil. It is best to let this mixture set for 2 to 3 weeks. At the end of this time the soil should be a much better consistency. Take the bulbs and plant about 4 inches deep.

              Narcissus or daffodil

Bearded Iris are grow from rhizomes. The new plant grows from a bud that develops along the top of the rhizome on the leaf facing side.
              Bearded Iris rhizome

Once planted these buds grow very quickly to form new plants. Again after digging up the plants, till and amend the soil with your mulch pile dirt and after about 2 weeks replant the Iris. Plant the rhizome with no more than ½ inch of soil over the rhizome.

Dutch Iris bulbs are slightly different in that they look like bulbs and are planted about 4 inches deep.

 
            Dutch Iris                               Bearded Iris                               Japanese Iris

Of course after planting the bulbs or rhizomes water well and continue to water for about 3-4 weeks.


09/15/2007
It is time to start your lawn work now.  As a matter of fact, I’m hoping that you have started already.  The stores are well stocked with fertilizer, lime, and grass seed.  I might suggest that you get enough fertilizer now to last you for the next two applications because by the time the final time to apply the fertilizer it may not be available.  Our friends at Lowe’s and Home Depot just sell what is moving at any particular point in time.  Of course fertilizer only moves in the fall and spring and not in between so they do not carry it at any great volume. 

The fall rains have started, I think, so it is a very good time to aerate the lawn with a plug type aerator.  I noticed that Sears had them on sale for about $150, but you can rent one for less than that much from most any rental place.

If you have an in ground lawn sprinkler make sure that you mark the heads prior to aerating because the tines on the machine can and will cause a major amount of damage if you run over one or more of the heads. Replacement heads are about $13 - 14 so it doesn’t take many to count up -- of course you have to dig them up to replace them, this is at best a dirty job.

Make sure that you go over the lawn at least 2X at perpendicular routes. This will give the ground a lot of holes for the seed to drop into. More than 2X is ok so have fun.  Next is seed, I have included a complete listing of all the seed varieties that are approved by VT. The operative word in all of this is CERTIFIED seed. More than likely you will be purchasing tall fescue, creeping red, or Chewings fescue. The tall fescue is probably the best all round grass for this area. It is somewhat shade tolerant and most of the cultivars now available are drought resistant. If you have a shady lawn (one where the lawn gets less than 2-3 hours of sunlight a better choice is one of the creeping or Chewings fescues. There are a lot of varieties listed and probably, as a matter of fact most, will not be available at all stores. Just take the list with you and purchase what ever they have that is listed.

Some of you will probably purchase some Kentucky bluegrass, this is not a problem if it is mixed with fescue. By itself it will not stand up to our dry weather. It does however look very good in the lawn because it has such a fine blade.

Some of you may even like to try Bermuda grass it does like our weather in the summer and is a very hardy grass (you probably all have some in your lawn - it is called common Bermuda or wire grass) It grows extremely well on road banks and west or south facing hills. The only thing about this grass is that it is nearly impossible to get rid of with common chemicals. Only one will do it effectively and that is Turflon. It is expensive and can only be used in the spring when the grass comes out of its winter sleep.

Next is fertilizer. I’m almost positive that everyone has had a soil test in the past 2-3 years so you know how much fertilizer is needed. Oh you haven’t had a soil test -- gosh that is too bad because now you have to guess. Well, lets take a swing at it. Is your grass a little anemic and not green like it should be? Did it not grow well this summer? Does your Hydrangea have pink flowers or blue flowers Aluminum is necessary to produce the blue pigment for which bigleaf hydrangea is noted. Most garden soils have adequate aluminum, but the aluminum will not be available to the plant if the soil pH is high. For most bigleaf hydrangea cultivars, blue flowers will be produced in acidic soil (pH 5.5 and lower), whereas neutral to alkaline soils (pH 6.5 and higher) will usually produce pink flowers. Between pH 5.5 and pH 6.5, the flowers will be purple or a mixture of blue and pink flowers will be found on the same plant. Lets ignore the aluminum for now and concentrate on the pink or blue color, blue is acid and pink is basic. If your lawn is anemic and the hydrangea is blue then you need to put some lime in with the fertilizer if the lawn is anemic and the hydrangea is pink then you need to put some fertilizer down that has some sulfur in it so that the lawn is brought back to the 6.5 to 7.0 pH level. If the lawn just did not grow well it probably has a nitrogen shortage (of course if the pH is not correct the nitrogen is not available to the plant). Unless you are quite positive that you have a pH problem then use of a balanced fertilizer is recommended. By balanced I mean something like 10-10-10 or 5-5-5. About 10 to 12 pounds per 1000ft2 should do it for this year and remember that next year in the spring or summer get a soil sample analyzed .

The next to the last thing to do is go over the lawn with something that will get the seed down to the soil. I normally use a tine type thatcher, not to thatch but to get the seed in good contact with the soil.

The last thing to do is to keep the sod damp for at least 10 days this can be done with rain or sprinklers. It does not need to be drenched but it needs to be damp. GOOD LUCK.  Below is the list of grasses that are certified in Virginia, the red are the recommend grasses for this area.

Kentucky Bluegrass – Individual varieties selected must make up not less than 10%, nor more than 35% of the total mixture on a weight basis. All varieties must be certified. Selections can be made from Category I alone or various combinations of Categories I, II, and III as noted. Kentucky bluegrasses listed as “Promising” (Category III below) can account for no more than 35% of the blend by weight).

Category I – Recommended Kentucky Bluegrass Varieties (65–100% of blend by weight).

Apollo, Arcadia– Individual varieties selected must make up not less than 10%, nor more than 35% of the total mixture on a weight basis. All varieties must be certified. Selections can be made from Category I alone or various combinations of Categories I, II, and III as noted. Kentucky bluegrasses listed as “Promising” (Category III below) can account for no more than 35% of the blend by weight).Apollo, Arcadia(3), Award, Awesome, Beyond, Blackstone(1), Bordeaux, Brilliant, Cabernet, Champlain, Courtyard, Dynamo, Everest, Everglade, Excursion(3), Impact, Liberator, Limousine, Midnight, Moonlight,NuGlade, Perfection, Princeton 105, Quantum Leap, Rambo, Raven, Rugby II (3), Total Eclipse, Tsunami,and Unique(3).

Category II – Special use varieties (10–35% on a weight basis) – These varieties have been noted for specific enhancement of Kentucky bluegrass performance as related to shade tolerance and reduced

– These varieties have been noted for specific enhancement of Kentucky bluegrass performance as related to shade tolerance and reduced maintenance requirements.

Shade Tolerant: Ascot, Brilliant, Liberator, Moonlight, NuGlade, Princeton 105, and Quantum Leap.
Ascot, Brilliant, Liberator, Moonlight, NuGlade, Princeton 105, and Quantum Leap.

Low Maintenance Tolerant: Bariris, Baron, and Midnight.

Bariris, Baron, and Midnight.

Category III – Promising Kentucky Bluegrasses (10–35% on a weight basis) – These grasses have

– These grasses have performed in the top statistical quality category for a minimum of 2 consecutive years in Virginia and Maryland trials. Seed may be difficult to locate.  Bariris, Barrister, Bluestone, Diva, Ginney, Glenmont, NuDestiny, and Skye.

Tall Fescue – For tall fescues, both recommended and promising varities can be used in the VCIA Sod
Certification Program.

Category I – Recommended Tall Fescue Varieties (90–100% on a weight basis)

2– 2nd Millennium, Arid 3(3,4), Avenger, Barerra(1, 3), Barlexus(1), Biltmore(3), Bingo, Bonsai 2000(4), Bravo(3), Chapel Hill(4), Cochise III, Constitution, Coyote(1), Coyote II(3), Crewcut II(1),, Crossfire II, Davinci,Dominion
(1), Durana(4), Duster(1), Dynasty(1), Empress(4), Endeavor, Falcon II(1), Falcon IV, Fidelity(3), Finelawn Petite(4), Genesis(4), Good-en, Grande, Greenkeeper WAF, Houndog 5, Inferno, Jaguar 3(1),Justice, Kalahari, Laramie (1, 3), Lion(3,4), Magellan, Masterpiece, Millennium(1), Mustang 3(3), Onyx(3), Padre(3), Picasso, Penn 1901, Quest, Raptor, Rebel Exeda, Rebel 2000(4), Rebel Sentry(1), Red Coat(4),Regiment II, Rembrandt, Rendition, Renegade (3,4), Reserve(4), Shenandoah(4), Shenandoah II(4), Southern Choice(3,4), SR 8250, SR 8300(3) , Stetson(1,3), Tarheel, Tarheel II, Titan 2(4), Titanium, Tulsa(4), TF 66(1),Ultimate, Virtue (1), Watchdog, Wolfpack, WPEZE(3), and Wyatt(1).
 
Category II – Promising tall fescue varieties (may be 90–100% of the mixture on a weight basis)

Apache III, Beacon, Blackwatch, Blade Runner, Cayenne, Chipper, Corgi, Covenant, Daytona, Desire,

Dynamic, Escalade, Evergreen II, Expedition, Finelawn Elite, Firebird Five-Point, Forte, Grande II,

Gremlin, Guardian 21, Houndog 6, Hunter, Innovator, Lexington, Matador, Matador GT, Ninja 2, ‘Ol Glory,

Piedmont, Proceeds 5301, Riverside, Scorpion, Serengeti, Scorpion II, Silverado II, Silverstar, Solara,

Southern Choice II, SR 8550, SR 8600, Tahoe, Tempest, Turbo, Tuxedo, Venanzio, and Virtuoso.

Kentucky bluegrass varieties recommended for mixing with tall fescue sod to enhance sod strength

(up to 10% of the seed mixture by weight): Baron and all cultivars from Kentucky bluegrass Categories

Baron and all cultivars from Kentucky bluegrass Categories I, II and III

Bermudagrass – Varietal differences in texture and winter hardiness are important considerations. If no notation

Varietal differences in texture and winter hardiness are important considerations. If no notation
follows the variety name this indicates it has performed in the top statistical category at both Virginia Tech and Hampton Roads Research Stations. Varieties with the notation # are only recommended in Southeastern Virginia.

Category I – Recommended vegetatively propagated bermudagrass varieties: Aussie Green#,
Celebration# , GN-1#, Midfield, Midiron, Midlawn, MS-Choice#, Patriot, Quickstand, Shanghai#, Tifgreen#,TifSport #, Tifway#, Tifway II#, Tufcote, and Vamont.

Promising vegetatively propagated bermudagrass varieties: Premier

PremierCategory II - Recommended seeded bermudagrass varieties: Blackjack#, Continental#, Mohawk#1,Princess-77#, Riviera, Savannah#, Southern Star#1, Sundevil II#1, Transcontinental#1, and Yukon.

Zoysiagrass – (Varietal differences in texture and winter hardiness are important considerations.)

– (Varietal differences in texture and winter hardiness are important considerations.)

Category I – Recommended vegetatively propagated zoysiagrass varieties: Meyer.

Meyer.

Category I – Recommended seeded zoysiagrass varieties: Zenith.

Zenith.

Category II – Promising vegetatively propagated (V) and seeded (S) zoysiagrass varieties: Cavalier

Cavalier (V), Companion (S) J-14 (S), J-36 (S), J-37 (S), Marquis (V), Sunburst (V), ZEN-400 (S), and ZEN-500 (S).
Promising for Eastern VA only: DeAnza (V), El Toro (V), Emerald (V), Jamur (V), Miyako (V), Victoria

DeAnza (V), El Toro (V), Emerald (V), Jamur (V), Miyako (V), Victoria (V), and Zeon (V).

Perennial Ryegrass – (not for use in sod production) Use certified seed.

– (not for use in sod production) Use certified seed.

Category I – Recommended perennial ryegrass varieties:

Affirmed, Applaud, Blazer IV(3), Brightstar II, Catalina II, Charismatic, Churchill, Divine, Exacta, Fiesta 3,Gallery, Gator 3, Grand Slam, Inspire, Jet, Mach I(3), Majesty, Manhattan 4, Pentium, Pizzazz, Racer II, and Stellar.

Category II – Promising perennial ryegrass varieties (limited data/availability of seed): Barlennium,

Barlennium, Brightstar SLT, Citation Fore, and Pinnacle II.

Fine Fescues – For use in low maintenance areas or in partial to full shade. Promising varieties have limited

– For use in low maintenance areas or in partial to full shade. Promising varieties have limited performance data or availability as certified seed. Neither blending varieties nor mixing species have been studied extensively in MD or VA. Limited research does not indicate any advantage to blending or mixing varieties from the different fine fescues (e.g.; creeping red fescue, chewings fescue, hard fescue or sheep fescue). Use only certified seed.

Creeping red fescue – Recommended varieties: None. Promising: Fortitude, Jasper II, Pathfinder, and

None. Fortitude, Jasper II, Pathfinder, and Wendy Jean.

Chewings fescue – Recommended: Longfellow II. Promising: 7 Seas, Ambassador, Compass,

Longfellow II. 7 Seas, Ambassador, Compass, Culumbra II, Jamestown 5, SR 5130, and Zodiac.

Hard fescue – Recommended: Berkshire, Chariot, DefiantBerkshire, Chariot, Defiant(3), Discovery, Nordic, and Osprey.

Promising:  Heron, Oxford, Predator, Reliant IV, and Spartan II.

Sheep fescue – Recommended or promising: None at this time.

Kentucky bluegrass varieties recommended for mixing with fine fescue sod to enhance sod

strength (up to 10% of the seed mixture by weight): Baron and all cultivars from Kentucky bluegrass

Baron and all cultivars from Kentucky bluegrass
Categories I, II and III

Varieties marked with superscript notations denote the following:

(1) to be considered for removal in 2007 due to declining performance relative to other varieties.

(2) to be considered for removal in 2007 due to declining seed quality.

(3) to be considered for removal in 2007 due to the absence of recent testing of certified seed lots in MD and VA.

(4) to be considered for removal in 2007 due to lack of recent testing in MD and VA.

08/12/2007
It is about that time again, fall is coming up soon.  I will bet you think that guy is crazy; it has been over 100 degrees for the last few days -- that is not fall.  Do you realize that the County Fair is coming in just a few weeks, Labor Day is 20 or so days away, and kids go back to school at the end of the month.  That is less than 20 days away.  Now the question is what is so special about fall?  It is the best time to plant bushes, trees, and cool weather grass.

I will also bet that you have been looking at your water bill and saying to yourself -- if I’m spending this much money on water, why isn’t my grass looking a lot better?  It probably has something to do with the heat.  Ground temperatures going high tend to make the grass retreat into dormancy.  Unless the ground is supplied with at least one inch of water every week, the roots stay shallow.  Even though you water, it does very little good because the water evaporates and the grass has nothing to drink.  That one inch needs to be supplied in one or at most two watering times.  In other words the ground must be soaked. That is why soaker hoses around plants do so well -- the water goes into the ground and does not evaporate as easily.

Another defect that I’m fairly sure that you have is weeds, they can be nut grass (tall slender shoots that look light green and have brown flowers),



Crabgrass, Goosegrass, Oxalis, Chickweed, or any of the other two to 300 types of weeds that can and do invade our lawns.  My absolute favorite is Lespedeza.  It looks like a miniature Christmas tree after the first frost.  All of the weeds that you see in your lawn at this time are summer weeds.  They will die or go dormant after the first frost.  It is quite useless to try killing them now, because they are very hardy and the only thing that will effectively kill them is Glyphosate, but that kills the lawn.  So unless you want to completely renovate your lawn, only use Glyphosate in spots and on very stubborn things.  The best is just wait until the end of this month or the beginning of September.
The first thing is to mow the lawn short, about 2-3 inches and look at the ground.  If there is more than one-half inch of brown dead grass, you will have to thatch.  A mechanical thatcher can be rented at any number of rental places.  After this is done, rake up the dead grass and start a mulch pile or (I hate to say this) haul away. T he next thing is to aerate the ground.  Use an aerator that plugs the ground and leaves the plugs laying on the surface.  Go over the lawn several times to get a good aeration . Next broadcast the grass seed on the ground.  Use the directions on the bag to get the proper amount.  Now you should do one of several things.  Lightly rake the entire yard so that the seed gets good ground contact.  Or lightly spread straw over the seeded area.  Or put one of those fiber mats over the seeded area.  All of these things help the seed stay moist and cool so that it can sprout and get some roots going.  The last thing is to put down the fertilizer.  If you had your lawn soil tested by an agricultural lab, all you have to do is put down the proper amount. Oh, you did not have your soil tested !!!!!  Gosh what do you do now?   My suggestion is to use a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10.  Put about 6-8 pounds per 1000 sq.ft.  Make a deal with yourself to get your soil tested next spring.  What ever you dom KEEP THE GROUND MOIST by watering 2-3 times per day very lightly.  You want the top ¼ inch of soil to be moist.  The grass will come up in 7 - 10 days.  Continue to water until it becomes at least two inches tal l. Then go back to the one inch per week schedule.  By this time we should be in the State Fair rainy season, and most likely you will not have to water very much.

Good luck and next time I’ll have a list of good grass seeds to purchase.


07/06/2007

PESTS


       Japanese Beetle

I was setting on my deck the other day. and I started to see some flying bugs circling the Harry Lauder walking stick.  Upon a little more careful examination, I found that what I was seeing was one of our favorite pests -- the Japanese Beetle (Popillia japonica Newman).  It is that time of the year for these pesky bugs to come out and annoy everyone.  I guess annoy is not the correct word since the Japanese Beetle causes about $234 million in demage from the grub alone.  This breaks up into about $78 million for control and about $150 million for replacing turf that has been damaged . The bug was introduced to the US in 1916 with a shipment of plants from Japan.  Since that time, it has become firmly established in about one half of the United States.  As with most introduced pests, the beetle had no natural enemies and found an abundance of very tasty things to eat.  At this time, we can positively say that it is here to stay and no amount of profanity or chemicals will make it disappear.  The trick is to control the critter by one of two means:

1. Chemical sprays and other chemical controls or
2. Using the IPM or Integrated Pest Management which includes biological, cultural, mechanical, and chemical controls.

Chemical sprays and or chemical systemic controls are usually nonspecific to any one or two pests.  They do a vary good job of killing the pest that is presently causing a lot of grief, but it also kills some of the more beneficial bugs such as lady beetles and Tiphia vernalis-- a small parasitic wasp.  This small, parasitic wasp of Japanese beetle grubs resembles a large, black, winged ant.  Its current distribution is believed to be throughout the Northeastern United States and south to North Carolina. This wasp was introduced to the US by the USDA as a control for the Japanese beetle grub. Another imported parasite of the adult beetle Istocheta Aldrichi has been shown to be important in regulating the population dynamics of the beetle in the Northeastern United States.

If we use chemicals by the gallon we will kill a lot of bugs, but most likely the bugs will win because some will get resistant and we will have to find other chemicals to use by the gallon.

Probably a more realistic avenue is to use the IPM Integrated Pest Management system of controls that utilizes biological, cultural, mechanical, and chemical controls.  Biological controls are those in which natural predators such as Istocheta Aldrichi, Tiphia vernalis, milky spore mold or Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) are used to suppress the population to a manageable level.  Istocheta Aldrichi and Tiphia vernalis are not presently available to the homeowner but they are naturally propagating and will eventually be around in numbers large enough to control the beetle population.  Milky Spore Mold is available in garden centers as a powder that can be broadcast on the lawn. Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt is a common bacteria of good soil that has a lot of vegetative content. Most lawns do not have this high concentration of vegetable matter so the Bt can be purchased at garden centers and added to the soil. Chemicals are used as a last resort and only when things get completely out of control like when your lawn is getting brown and you can pull up hunks of grass that the grubs have eaten the roots. Biological methods are not fast and usually take anywhere from one to four years to properly take hold.

A good way to determine if you have a real problem is to take a spade and dig a plug of lawn 8x8x3 inches and place it on a news paper. Carefully examine the plug and count to number of grubs then multiply that number by 2.25 if the number comes out greater than 10 you have a problem and probably drastic measures are called for.

                    Grub

Another method is to fill your landscape with plants that the beetles dislike

These are the primary ones:

1. Magnolia 3. Dogwood 5. Northern red oak 7. Holly 9. Hemlock

2. Redbud 4. Red Maple 6. Burning Bush 8. Boxwood 10. Ash

These are the plants to use if you want to have a GOOD crop of Japanese Beetles:

1. American Linden 3. Apple 5. Norway Maple 7. Crape myrtle 9. Birch

2. Crabapple 4. Japanese maple 6. Rose 8. Pin Oak 10. Plum

The beetles are here to stay and we must learn to live with them.  With a little forethought and persistence, we can keep the damage done to an absolute minimum.

And one last thing encourage your neighbor to use the beetle bags -- he will have a lot of the beetles and you will not have nearly as many. Only about 75% of the beetles attracted to the bags get caught and the others lay a lot of eggs.

06/10/2007:
Trees

Many of you have planted trees or bushes in your yard either this spring, last fall, or any other time in the last three years and are enjoying the fruits of your labor. The plant is doing very well and it is a sight to see. Remember that this plant takes a long time to acclimate to being in a different location. The rule of thumb is that it takes about three years to grow the necessary new roots to survive a moderate drought and at least five years to survive a prolonged drought.

The process is that the tree or bush uses the first year to acclimate to its new surroundings, the second year root growth actually starts in earnest with the fine uptake roots becoming more prevalent. In the third year the root growth accelerates to the point that the roots can sustain the canopy. You can help out by the proper application of mulch and by keeping other growing plants out of the drip line. Trees and bushes can have up to two inches of mulch around the plant so long as the trunk and about 2 to 4 inches around the trunk is essentially free of any mulch. This is to discourage bugs from hiding in the mulch and feasting on the trunk. I’m sure that you have seen mulch piled up around a tree to a depth of more than 10 to 12 inches -- it looks like a volcano with a tree growing out of the cauldron. This is probably the invention of growers that want to sell a lot of trees. It will take about two to three years for the new tree to choke and by then the guarantee is over so you have to purchase a new tree. Beware!!!!!!

Summer Weeds

 

I’ll bet that most of you have seen this beautiful yellow flower in your lawn, it looks like it is growing out of a patch of clover. Of course it is not, it is actually a weed called Oxalis Stricta or yellow woodsorrel. It is an annual that comes from seed each year if not controlled. It produces a lot of seeds that can set in the ground for several years before they start to grow. Some of your wives may know that this plant is sometime sold as a house plant around St.Patricks day.

Control is usually with a combination of chemicals one such is Turflon D it is a combination of 2,4-D plus triclopyr. This is just a suggestion - any weed chemical that has these two chemicals in it works. This weed is fairly hard to control so a second spraying may be necessary in three to four weeks.


05/14/2007:

Watering Lawns

It is about time to make a decision as to "Shall I water the lawn or should I save a bit of money and not water". Well, of course the decision is entirely yours to make -- the results of that decision must be followed ALL summer.  Most of us have cool weather grasses in our lawns, most, if not all, are grown in cooler climates (65F to 80F). Chesterfield County and all of the counties east of the mountains and south of Washington DC have temperatures that are some what higher during the late summer months.

Cool weather grasses, I’m talking fescue, has a hard time with hot dry conditions. It is stressed. Stress in grass takes the form of a bluish green tint and blades curling up along the axis of the leaf. The grass has a built in defense system to take care of this unpleasant situation. The grass goes into a dormant phase until the unpleasant situation, namely the dry soil and hot weather changes. As soon as it rains at least a measurable amount, usually this is at least ½ inch; the grass begins to grow again. Here is the rub, if it rains today and then does not rain again for 1 ½ or 2 weeks then rains some measurable amount the grass starts to grow and probably cannot change back to a dormant condition again quickly enough to survive. This is especially true if you or one of your families go out and sprinkles the lawn because it looks different, that blue green tint, but does not water enough, and the grass will perk up and then if the watering does not continue the grass will die. 
 
The usual amount that the grass needs is about 1 inch per week. This can be delivered in one day per week or a better solution is ½ inch two times per week. You can find out how long this takes by placing several flat pie pans in the sprinkled area at various locations and letting the sprinkler run until at least half of them have ½ inch of water in them. Now you know how long to run the sprinkler in any location to get the desired amount of water to the grass.

If you do not water this summer be very observant of weeds -- they tend to multiply quickly in the lawns that do not have a thick top growth. To prevent crab grass and other grasses such as annual blue grass or Poa Anna now is the time to apply the second application of pre-emergence chemicals. Get those that have NO fertilizer included. It is kind of late to purchase this material because the local stores do not seem to think that sales are brisk enough to carry the material through out the summer. I believe that Southern States still has some.
 
Brown Patch
 
Brown patch is a fungal infection, so to speak, of the lawn. It is caused by the Rhizoctonia Blight fungus and it shows up as circular or halo or irregular shaped brown patches in the lawn. Two things are usually present to make this fungus grow. Moisture and usually too much fertilizer. Fertilizing cool season grasses at times other than in the fall causes weak shoots to grow tall quickly making them susceptible to the fungus especially if they are wet at night. I would like to start the old saying NO FERTILIZER IS GOOD FERTILIZER IN THE SUMMER.

The trick here is to water prior to 11:00 AM so that the grass dries out before night fall. Of course the fungus will not start growing after one or two or even 5 to 10 nights but continued dampness on warm summer nights will eventually cause the fungus to grow. One nice thing about this fungus is that it only affects the blades and not the crown of the grass plant. That means that come fall the patches disappear and the grass will be as good as new.

If by chance you want to do something, because you have had problems in the past, you can purchase some fungicide mix it up and apply to the grass at the PREVENATIVE rate (usually this is ½ the curative rate). Remember, if the patches are already there applying the fungicide at the curative rate but you cannot undo the damage already caused by the fungus. You will prevent the fungus from spreading. 
 
This fungus is unsightly but it does not kill the grass.
Mowing Height
 
Just a little reminder that mowing grass as high as 4-6 inches will give you a more lush lawn because the ground will stay cooler by 10 to 15 degrees, will prevent drying out of the lawn and will prevent weeds from taking over. Even crabgrass has a hard time getting going if the lawn is long. The small plants do not get enough light and just do not grow very well. 



04/24/2007:


FUNGUS    

I know that many of you like to use wood mulch around your house to keep the grass away from your foundation and away from the bedding plants.  Some may have noticed that they have little spots on the siding on mostly the sunny side of the house.  If you do you may have what is called Artillery Fungus.   This is just another member of the fungi that populate most dung or organic matter such as wood mulch.  For some reason this particular fungus does not like bark mulch very well. 

In wood mulch, that material which has been ground up from logs, leaves and roots, may get infected with this fungus along with about 1000 other fungi.  Some of these look rather peculiar from a discoloration to a large patch of yellow, orange, black or most any color material growing on the mulch.  It grows the best when the weather is very warm and humid, or when the watering system continually leaves a wet patch of mulch.  As soon as the humidity goes away the fungi stop growing and the patch dries up. 

But getting back to the artillery or shotgun fungus, this organism grows on fresh wood mulch, it is very hard to see the fungi in the mulch because it is so small.  The fungus uses a very interesting method to distribute its spores.  The dark brown spores, called peridioles set on top of cup-shaped cells which accumulate water.  They continue to collect moisture until the pressure gets to a point which is greater than the strength of the cell wall.  At this point the cell inverts and it bursts.  The spores are propelled as high as 6 yards.  If they touch anything they will adhere with a sticky substance which is the equivalent of natures version of Super Glue. The result is a mass of small, 1-2 mm, dots on your siding.  These dots are essentially impossible to remove without harming the material to which they adhere.  If you have a dark color on the siding the dots are hardly noticeable, if however, your siding is light color then you will see them and you are stuck.  Mechanical rubbing will not remove the dots but a dilute solution of bleach will lighten them so that they are not noticeable and it will also kill the spore. 

If you resort to this method, make sure that you use rubber or plastic waterproof gloves and keep the bleach off of your clothes and off of your face and mouth.  The fungus does not damage structures, cars, or plants.  A simple method of minimizing the growth of the fungus, or for that matter any fungus, is to use only mulch which has had a chance to set in a pile for a year where beneficial bacteria and other molds were able to break down the wood fiber to a material that does not readily support these fungi.    Another is to keep the mulch loose and aerated at all times.  Allow the mulch to decay almost all of the way before putting any more on the mulch that is already there.

Fungi are becoming more noticeable because most mulches are not allowed to go through a period of decay and fermentation prior to being placed around plants.  A lot of mulch dealers are so intent upon delivering mulch that no thought is given to proper handling.  

      
            Spore packet inside of a  cup cell.                          Spores stuck to the siding of a house

04/03/2007:

Last time we discussed moles and voles, so you all know as much about them as I do.  So anything that I might say now would be very boring, and you would not read the article, so I’m not going to mention the “M” and ‘v’ words again for a long time. 

You all know what time it is don’t you? The forsythia is in full bloom so it is time to put down crabgrass preventer. I looked all over the place for some that did not have fertilizer incorporated in the mix. Finally I found some that was nearly free of fertilizer at Southern States on Alverser Drive in Richmond. It contained 7% nitrogen and no other fertilizer components. I would imagine that any of the Southern States stores will have it. Pleasants Hardware also has the fertilizer free material. I’m not supposed to name names of places, but those are the only two that I have found to carry the crabgrass preventer without fertilizer. The reason that fertilizer is not good at this time is that the grass plant does not absorb the nutrients after about the 15th of March. This means that a good rain will wash the nutrients into the ditch, from there they go to a swamp, from there they go to a stream, then to a river, and finally to the Chesapeake Bay. Of course one home owner fertilizing his lawn will not hurt, but whole neighborhoods doing the same thing will start to do some damage. My neighborhood has 43 houses, each with a 0.5 acre lot. If every person puts down Weed and Feed according to directions then a total of almost 2000 pounds of pure nitrogen is put down and over 2/3 of this will wash away or leach into the ground. Is it any wonder that the Bay has a problem? Yes, your lawn will look like someone spilled dark green paint on it and you have to mow it every 3rd day but you won the neighborhood grass contest!!!!!!!!!!!!! If you took care of your lawn last fall it does not need any vitamins now.

Grass Roots Program

The Chesterfield Grass Roots Program is well under way again this spring. Master Gardeners are out surveying peoples yards talking to the homeowners and giving suggestions. They are taking soil samples and measuring the grass area square footage. The soil samples are going to the Ag. Lab for analysis. Susan Edwards gets the results back and sends each homeowner an accurate analysis of how much fertilizer will be needed this fall. In addition she will pass along the advice of the master gardener as to what should be done to the lawn to have one that stands out. Call 751-4401 to get your application.
Daylily Leaf Streak

Daylily leaf streak (Aureobasidium microstictum,) is a fungal disease that affects quite a lot of plants in our area. Normally it enters the plant after a bug such a thrip injures the leaf by puncturing tissue with their singular mandible and then sucking up the plant juices. This injury creates an entry point for other diseases.  This is a picture of a lily leaf that has been infected with lily leaf streak.




The disease will not kill the plant but it weakens it and makes the foliage look unsightly. The most common symptom is a yellowing of the central portion of the leaf followed by that portion turning brown. All daylily varieties are susceptible to daylily leaf streak but some are more susceptible than others. A healthy plant will withstand the disease better than one that is under stress. Cleaning the beds after the leaves have become brown in the fall will go a long way to prevent the disease. If, however, you have plants that get the affliction every year a regimen of applying a fungicide according to directions on the container will keep the disease at bay. Fungicides are available in local plant stores.

Daylily Rust (Puccinia hemerocallidis)

Another disease that looks a lot like daylily leaf streak is daylily rust. In this case the leaf develops small yellow to orange pustules on the leaf. The rust is randomly distributed on the underside of the leaf. The disease gets progressively worse during the summer, especially if the humidity and the temperature is high. Many plants will improve in the fall if the temperature and humidity come down. The fungus over winters on the dead leaves of the plant and of course reinfects the new plant in the spring. Another good reason to clean up the bed during the late fall and winter. Fungicides used on the daylily leaf streak also work on this disease.


03/17/2007:
 
Moles & Voles

 

Your lawn or garden looks as if a deranged alien from outer space has landed in your yard and has started digging just below the surface with wild abandon. Yesterday the area was nice and flat but today the lawn has humpy tracks all over the place. You look and almost call 911 to report a major infraction, but you cannot figure out what to call the problem. As you are standing in your front yard one of your sage neighbors comes over to see why you are running around your yard saying nasty things and stomping. He just looks one time and says “Welcome to the neighborhood you have moles just like everyone else on this street.” You think to yourself why do I have to have moles? This sage neighbor, being a master gardener, says “Let me explain something to you about tending a lawn and garden”. And this is what he has to say:

There are three kinds of moles in Virginia, the Eastern Mole (Scalapus Aquaticus), the Hairy Tailed Mole (Parascalops Breweri) and the Star-nosed Mole (Condylura Cristata). The eastern mole is the most common in our area. The hairy tailed and star-nosed moles are usually found in the western part of the state. Lets talk about the eastern mole since that is what we have in our lawns. Moles are insectivores therefore by definition they do not eat your flowers, shrubs or trees. Their favorite food is earthworms and may eat up to 100% of their body weight every day. If earthworms are not present then slugs, grubs, or crickets will do or for variety and “fast food” millipedes, centipedes or spiders also fill in as good foods. In their zest to capture these tasty morsels they may dislodge a plant or two but one bite and they realize that this is not an insect so they move on.

The mole is built for digging . With a bullet shaped head and nose, powerful shoulder muscles and large, outward facing front feed with strong claws, these diggers literally swim through the lawn or garden in search of food. They raise tunnels in the earth and occasionally create small cone shaped mounds on top of the tunnels when they dig up from a lower level. These tunnels do serve a rather good purpose, they provide a path for water to travel down to the roots of trees and bushes and the tunnels serve to aerate the soil. Of course they also provide pathways for the other critter that gives gardeners heartburn - the Vole. More about the vole later.

Moles are mammals, they are covered in fur that is the same length all over their body and will lie in any direction. It feels much like velvet. This allows them to move forward or backward in the tunnel with no fur resistance. Moles have eyes that are hidden in their fur and are covered with skin ( a type of fused eyelid). As a result of this they see very poorly and are only able to distinguish between light and dark. To make up for the poor eye sight their sense of smell is very highly developed as is their sense of movement. They can detect ground vibrations from something as small as a 1-2 week old grub.

You might think that there are several dozen moles in your lawn from all of the crooked tunnels, but the fact is that there are probably only 1 - 3 individuals present. Moles are loners and cannot stand a lot of competition because of the amount of food that they need to eat every day. They can dig over 18- 20 feet of tunnel per hour so one individual can dig about 160 feet of tunnel in a single night. These tunnels are normally feeding tunnels and are used only once. The tunnels going to and from their den are 6 -24 inches deep. They normally build the nest below a large rock or stump or even a large tree. These travel tunnels are used often. In order to find a travel tunnel, depress a yard or two of tunnel and then go back to inspect that area in 2- 3 hours. If the tunnel is still depressed it is not a travel tunnel. If, however, it is raised again this may be a travel tunnel you must again depress the tunnel and see if it is raised again in a few hours. Now that you have found a travel tunnel you can get a trap to “get” the critter. The traps are quite varied going from the very simple “pit-fall” ( a 3 pound coffee can buried in the ground with the top level with the bottom of the tunnel and a board covering the hole to keep out the light) to a kill type trap (like a bayonet type that is placed over the tunnel and has a trigger in the tunnel.) Each type of trap has an instruction as to how it is to be used. Remember that Virginia law does not allow anyone to relocate live wild life from one location to another that is not part of your land without permission from the DNR. 

The very best method is to contract with the neighborhood hunting cat or dog to do the dirty work.

Gas, sound, gum or any of the other get rid of mole quick fixes are completely ineffective and only serve to enhance the wealth of those who sell them.

VOLES

There are many varieties of voles however, the ones that are present in our area are the Meadow vole (Microtus Penneylvanicus) and the Pine vole (Microtus pinetorum). The meadow vole is the most common. The meadow vole is a large mouse, larger than the field mouse that we are all familiar. At least one scientist says that the meadow vole is the most prolific mammal on earth. Populations are very cyclic going from few to at times over 2500 per acre then they collapse. The size of the meadow vole is 3.5 to 5 inches, the males are just a little larger than females. They are almost completely herbaceous during the summer and eat bark and roots during the winter. I’m sure that you have had the experience of a plant simply falling over and when you investigated it had absolutely no roots. They are very hungry all the time and will eat their weight in greens every day. Is it any wonder that they damage so many plants. They often use the tunnels that moles make to travel from nest, to food. Although they do spend a large amount of time above the ground, during the winter or cold days they use the tunnels. They do not hibernate so they feed all winter.

How do you get rid of the voles? The best way to reduce the damage that they cause is to make sure that the mulch in your garden is not piled up against the trunk of the trees or bushes. They use the mulch as hiding places when they eat. Do not leave root crops in the ground all winter. Getting the mole population down will also help because it removes another hiding place. Trapping the critters is something you can do to keep your self busy but it is doubtful that a significant reduction of the population will be achieved. Again a good cat or dog will do a wonderful job.

Voles are very hard to control if they have plenty to eat and places to hide. The home remedies, such as castor bean plants, chewing gum and vibrators are essentially ineffective. You will never completely exterminate them so the best bet is to deprive them of as much food and shelter as possible and maybe just maybe they will move to your neighbors yard.

The sage neighbor left at that point and you just looked after him thinking Why Me??? Why Me???

02/22/2007:
How many of you have thought about spring coming in just a few weeks?  Well I got my 4th or 5th seed catalogue today.  I got an advertisement for the Spring Fling, and it is at least 55 degrees outside today.  The wind is blowing like it is March kite weather . Now wouldn’t that remind you that spring is nearly here?

If you haven’t done your pruning yet, it is high time to do it now. 

I attended an advanced pruning seminar just last week and learned quite a few things that I didn’t know. Needle evergreens like pine trees, yew, arborvitae, cedar, false cypress, juniper, etc. will not form branches if cuts are made to the interior of the tree.  The buds are inactive on old wood.  If you are removing dead wood, make sure to cut several inches below the dead wood, or cut at the collar of the branch even though no new branches will form.  When this is the case go to the ends of the adjacent branches and cut ¼ inch above a bud to force growth toward the open space.

Have you ever noticed that some crape myrtles bloom longer than others?  The difference is probably due to the way in which they were pruned although different varieties may have varying bloom times.  The crape myrtle is one of Virginia’s premier landscape plants.  It is also one of the most mistreated plants ever to be planted.  Lagerstroemia indica and Lagerstroemia fauriei are prized for their long summer bloom periods (often called the 100 day bloomers.)  The natural form of the plant is to form a canopy of branches that will have many end shoots with a flower at the end of each shoot.  These flowers develop at different rates so the shrub is in bloom for an extended period of time.  

If the plant is severely cut back to an arbitrary height (topped) a great many “water spouts” will form at the cut.  These water spouts are very fast growing and are very poorly attached.  They will develop a large bloom at the end of each shoot that does not last as long as the smaller blooms forming on un-pruned shoots.  The large flowers are very heavy and the shoot will often break off during a summer rain or stiff wind.  In addition research has shown that stem decay significantly increases when topping cuts are made, and that more dead branches also occur in the upper part of the tree. (Gilman, E.F. and G.W. Knox 2005, Journal of Arboriculture 31(1):48-52.). What I have been talking about above is often called “crape murder”. 

The plant pruned in this way looks a little like a witches broom during the summer growth. I do not think that this is a very attractive form of the plant. Another problem with topping is the attack of aphids on the new waterspouts. These soft bodied pests suck the life out of the plant and leave what is commonly called ‘honey dew’ which then gets infected with mold and all of a sudden your tree/shrub is coated in black leaves. This does not create a lot of curb appeal. For a more information about crapemyrles go to the URL http://www.usna.usda.gov/PhotoGallery/CrapemyrtleGallery/.  

A calendar of pruning is presented here as a guide :

January Prune and bring in longer branch cuttings from forsythia, pussy willow, and other early spring flowering shrubs. Place in water -- the warmer indoor temperature will force the bloom.

February An excellent month to prune most plants. DO NOT PRUNE SPRING FLOWERING PLANTS. Prune shade trees; trees will “bleed” but this will not hurt them. Prune hybrid tea and Grandiflora roses to 3 or 4 strong canes.  Prune summer blooming plants such as crape myrtle, vitex and butterfly bush. Prune santolina back hard; thin nandina stalks and reduce canes by 1/3. Spray horticultural dormant oil on plants to reduce pests population. Remove all debris, including fallen leaves, from area. Put 3-4 inches of mulch around plants. Keep mulch off of plant stem.

March “Rejuvenation” pruning, to reduce the size of overgrown broadleaf evergreens should be done the earlier part of the month. If need be cut well-established plants back to within 12-18 inches of the ground. Fertilize and water. This can be done to azalea (after bloom), camellia, euonymus, evergreen magnolia, gardenia, hollies, ligature, nandina, photinia, pyracantha, and other broad leaf evergreens. Check with the county extention office if you have questions about a particular plant.

April Azalea and other spring flowering plants, such as forsythia, are pruned immediately after they bloom. These plants should not be sheared. Complete pruning by June 10. Mow or cut back evergreen ground covers such as English ivy, periwinkle, ajuga, liriope and mondo. Cut at >4”.

May For dense growth on pines break or cut ½ of the candle off. Pinch annuals to induce branching. Start pinching mums and continue until July 15. If you want large specimen mum blooms, grow 1 to 3 stems per plant and disbud to one bud later in the season.

June Prune climbing roses immediately after blooming. Keep roses opn for light and air penetration.

July Very light pruning -- if any. Heavy pruning will cause stimulation and late season growth that will not be winter hardy. Cut back scraggly annuals such as petunia, and fertilize for bloom until frost. Clip sheared hedges and screens regularly to maintain desired size-- always taper from narrow at the top to broad at the bottom.

August Remove buds from mums and camellias. Pruning at this time is only to be done if absolutely necessary. (broken branch, dead branch).

September Remove buds from camellias for larger blooms. NO Pruning on any shrubs or trees, the new growth that appears will freeze during the winter. Root prune plants to be moved next year. This will encourage a fibrous root system and will prevent planting shock.

October  Only remove dead or damaged branches.

November Perennials such as phlox and asparagus are to be cut to ground level to remove dead stalks and attached insect eggs. If diseased or contain insect eggs bag and discard in trash.

December  Lightly cut evergreens for Christmas decorations.

Note:  Never use pruning paint, always use sharp tools, always use sterile tools to make every cut.

02/06/2007:

It is cold out and there are not too many things that a garden person can do outside at this point.  About the only thing that can be done is wait for a nice sunny day and start to prune some of those plants in the yard that need some attention.  You remember that the way to prune is to have very sharp instruments like pruning shears, saws, and long handled loppers. (Unless you are good at sharpening these tools it is probably prudent to take them to a sharpening shop to get the job done.)

The first thing to do is survey the plant you want to prune.  Is it too big, too dense, or just leggy.  What ever the problem you need to decide what it is that will accomplish the task.  If the plant is too big then the action is to cut about 1/3 of the top away so that over the next 2 years that plant will become the size you want it to become.  If you remove more than 1/3 of the top you will be liable to hurt the plant, it will not have enough top growth to produce the food it needs to survive.  If the plant is too dense and the inside is not producing green leaves then the plant must be thinned out.  The way to do this is to reach into the interior of the plant and cut away major branches to open up the interior of the plant try to cut next to a branch or leaf.  Once this is done air circulation is allowed and light can enter into the interior of the plant.  While you are pruning this plant make sure that you cut out any crossing branches, any dead branches and any branches that are growing straight up (these are known as water spouts).  Air circulation and sun light on the interior branches will activate dormant buds and new growth will result.  The very fact that you are pruning out some of the branches will also stimulate the plant to grow. If the plant is just leggy like some of the rhododendron get after several years of growth the job is to trim up the plant so that it looks better. Again, the 1/3 rule is very important.  Start by cutting crossing branches, then branches that are so long that they look like an old man that has a back ache. Cut next to a leaf or next to a branch.  In all cases do not use wound dressing - it really does no good and may cause harm in that insects and bacteria can grow under the dressing.

Just setting here thinking about what else to write about, it occurred to me that maybe some of you would like to hear about all of the mistakes and really dumb things that I have done with plants and grass growing in our yards over the past 40 + years of living in various houses.

We, Pat and I, moved to the east coast and at first we rented an apartment in Salisbury, Md.  Well I didn’t have a chance to do any damage because we didn’t have any plants.  After about 2 years we moved to a house in Seaford, Delaware. It was a nice little house in the only development in town.  The foundation plants were in -- they were a little over grown, the yard had a fair stand of grass and it looked, for the most part, like any of the 100 or so houses in the neighborhood. We now had to put our personal stamp upon this piece of property.  The first thing we looked at was some plants next to the house, being from Minnesota, we had very little (no) knowledge of southern plants.  We thought that someone had planted a Magnolia and it looked very bad next to the house. Well, it had to go. Pat and I worked for at least 3 days hacking this sick plant down and then digging out the roots.  One of the neighbors came over and said “Why did you dig out that beautiful rhododendron“. Something clicked in our mind -- rhododendrons are good they are sometimes planted next to a house.  Of course we said that we did not want a rhododendron next to the house. That was just the first in a series of dumb things.

There was a plant nursery going out of business down the road in Delmar, Del. and they were giving away plants.  Being in great financial shape as we were this was like manna from heaven.  We took our shovel went to the nursery.  We found some wonderful dogwood trees and proceeded to dig up two of them. We then moved them by hand to the road.  When we got them there (they were at least 8 feet high) we realized that we had absolutely no way of getting them home. Plan ahead right????  As we were standing there looking confused and embarrassed, trying very hard to put one of them in the trunk of a 1957 Chevrolet a very nice man drove up in a pickup and offered to haul them to our house.

01/16/2007:

Can you believe that it is the middle of January, and the temperature is so mild?  It almost makes you think that it is spring; yesterday the temperature reached 75 degrees F..  Don’t let the temperature fool you, there is still a lot of winter to come, and the rest of this week is supposed to be very cool.  Of course the flowers that are up and blooming will take a major hit and when the weather finally breaks this spring we probably will not have a good showing like we normally have.  The azaleas will get some damage because the buds have started to swell in preparation for spring.  This is especially true of the very early bloomers, the later bloomers should be ok. The daffodils will probably be ok -- they will just stop growing and wait for warmer weather.  The tulips have not broken the soil surface yet, so they will be fine.  If some have risen above the ground level the squirrels may eat the green leaves and dig down to try getting the bulb.  Not much can be done to prevent this short of putting cages over the plants.

Winter is rest time for most gardeners, a time to enjoy the company of ones friends and family.  Of course it is also a time to do some planning.  What are you going to accomplish this year?  Are you going to plant a garden; are you going to improve the soil of your present garden; do you have the tools that you need to accomplish your plans?  In addition, are the tools you have in good shape or should you do a little maintenance?  All of these questions and a host of others are quite simple and don’t need a lot of time or energy to answer, but if you think about them now instead of 10 minutes before you actually try to accomplish a task the work just may go a little smoother.  On the other hand maybe you work best under severe and constant pressure so all of the above does not make a lick of sense. I tend to fall into the latter category so I can see your point.

After this cold spell there will be some warm comfortable days again and it is coming to the time that we can prune all of our woody plants.  This includes everything except those that bloom in the spring, like azaleas or rhododendron or camellia (spring blooming) because if you prune them now there will be no spring flowers. As you know these are pruned immediately after they bloom in the spring.

If you have ornamental grasses and want more very early spring is the time to create more plants.  You could start them from seed but these grasses are relatively difficult to germinate . The best way is to divide an existing plant that has not started its spring growth. This can be one that has been in the ground for 1 to ?? years or you can purchase 4 inch pots of this grass from the nursery and divide it.  The method is the same, the only difference is that you will get many more plants from an old established plant.  If you are going to divide an existing large plant you will need fairly large tools such as a sharp 4 - 6 inch spade, or a sharp shovel, even an axe will work.  First dig up the root mass, it will extend at least 1 to 1 ½ feet from the grass plant.  Once the root mass is out of the ground simply cut it into sections by any means available. I f you are strong (not strong smelling) just tear the mass apart with your bare hands.  As long as there are roots on the section you have separated from the large mass then it will probably develop into another healthy plant in about one year.  If you cannot tear it apart with your hands simply cut it with a spade or axe you will not hurt it.  Replant the cut apart sections at the same level that they came out of the ground and make sure that the plant gets sufficient water during the summer.  The 4 inch pots will be very easy to divide because the root mass is so small and hand dividing is very simple -- you should get at least 3 to 4 plants out of the pot.  The nice thing about dividing is that you can do it every year then you can either sell or give away the extra plants.

It is time to turn your mulch pile over.  By now the beneficial bacteria and molds have done as much as they can to digest the leaves, grass and what ever else might be inside the pile.  If the pile is not turned over and allowed to aireate it might turn septic and start to smell bad.  The mixing can be done with a hay fork or even with a rototiller.  I have not found a real easy way to do it but it creates a good source of exercise and a day at the gym can be avoided.  This pile needs to be moist but not overly so, it needs some fertilizer sprinkled over it to replenish the nitrogen that is driven off with the pile getting hot.  Turn the pile at least once every 3-4 weeks to get optimal mulch creation.








12/18/2006:

Lawn Moss 
I’m sure that many of you have some, or a lot of, moss in your yard.  This can be one of the worst things or it can be okay depending on your frame of mind.  Some people actually cultivate moss as a green grass substitute.  I was reading a publication from Virginia Tech (No. 430-536) that took both sides of the situation and developed a good argument in both directions.  If you have dense shade, poorly drained soil, acidic soil, compacted soil, and you scalp your yard (cut too low) you probably have moss.  If you are like me, you want to know what to do to reduce or eliminate moss. 

Well there are several steps that you can take to lessen the abundance of this soft green critter.  First, you must decide which of the above items are the main problems.  It could be as simple as getting a soil test and then following the recommendations.  Or it could be as simple as cutting off some of the lower branches on your trees to allow more sun to reach the ground.  Compacted soils that do not drain well and are in the shade are sure formulas for moss . You might allow light in but still not be able to grow grass.  If it is drainage that is the biggest problem, then something needs to be done to get the water away -- or at this point you can embrace the moss and encourage it to grow. 

The best advice is to have someone from the Master Gardner system come out to survey your lawn.  This can be done by calling the County Agents office and get your name on the list of people that want their lawn tested.  The cost is minimal (about $20 -25 ) and for this you get a soil analysis, a chance to talk to a Master Gardner, and advice through out the summer as to what need to be done.  The number to call is 751-4401.  The secretary will send you an application form that you fill out and attach a check. Some time this coming spring a Master Gardner will call you and set up an appointment.

Christmas Trees

Most everyone has a Christmas tree in the house about now.  Some have living trees and some like myself have cut trees.  Those with living trees can bring the tree inside this week.  Make sure that the root ball is watered not floated in a container.  This tree should not be inside more than about five days.  Anytime longer will make it harder for the tree to grow outside once it is planted.  Dig the hole now so that when you take it out it will be a shorter job to put it into the ground.  The hole should be at least two times the diameter of the root ball and about 1 - 3 inches shallower than the depth of the root ball.  If the tree is covered with burlap, this cover must be either removed or shoved down to the bottom of the hole.  Fill the hole with water.  Then put the tree into the hole and make sure that when you put the soil back around the ball you do not leave air pockets.  The tree should be slightly higher than it was in the field.  Put some mulch around the tree, but not up to the trunk and no more than 3 inches deep.  Water periodically over the winter spring and summer. Do not fertilize at this time -- wait until next year.

Those of you that have a cut tree can leave the tree up a lot longer knowing that it will probably dry out even if you keep it watered.  If you have cut off about two inches from the butt end just prior to putting into the stand and if you put water into the stand.  If you put some material into the water to prevent bacterial sealing of the butt, you might not have quite as dry a tree as some other people.  But lets face it -- the tree was cut -- its roots were removed -- not much can be done to preserve an essentially dead tree.  Give it as much water as it will take up, enjoy it then wrap it in an old sheet and take it outside.  The county will have a location that you can take your tree to have it cut into mulch some time after the first of the year. Or you can take it to the dump and put it on the mulch pile and it will get cut up. If you have your own mulching machine do it your self.
Have a very Merry Christmas and a Prosperous new year.

11/28/2006:

Grass (The stuff outside your house; not the other stuff)

Well it is almost December.  Your lawn is still hungry, so it needs to be fed again for the last time.  I’m sure that you have followed the advice so lovingly espoused in this corner of the web site over the last 2-3 months and have put the proper amount of fertilizer on the lawn.  The lawn has responded by looking better than it has looked since it was laid down as sod by the contractor.  Is this correct??  If it is not - well there is still the last ditch effort of putting some fertilizer on now.  Even if you were too busy to do the first two applications, this one will help your lawn tremendously.  Next spring it will look a lot better than if you don’t do anything.  However, if you have applied the fertilizer according to the soil analysis. you should have a very good looking lawn now and it will look very good next spring.  By feeding the cool weather grass now before it goes dormant for the winter, it will take up all that good food into its roots and will be ready to burst forth in the spring.

Tree Leaves

Moderate amounts of leaves can be mulched into the grass without any detrimental effect on the lawn.  If you have a mulching mower, you can chew up the leaves and "leave" them where they are.  According to the agronomist at V Tech, studies show that moderate amounts of leaves cut up small enough to fall to the ground around the grass blades do not produce thatch and do not inhibit the grass in any way.  I think that the operative word here is "moderate".  If you have leaves that cover your lawn to a depth of 3 - 6 inches, I think that this would be excessive and they should be removed.

If you do have to remove excess leaves, the old mulch pile is the place to put them. Don’t take them to the dump; they don’t do anyone much good if they have to be buried with the trash.  Chesterfield does recycle all trees, grass, and leaves.  They rough grind all of this material and put it on piles for anyone to take -- free of charge.  You can also get this mulch by paying for it at most garden supply stores because many of them load up on this material.  They let it start to break down in piles; then sell it.

11/08/2006:

Transplanting 

Transplanting a plant is a very traumatic experience for a plant if it is awake.  It's like doing surgery on a person while they are awake.  Dormancy starts in the fall as soon as you experience a good hard freeze, and the plants remain dormant until the weather warms up in the spring.  This is when you should transplant, while the plants are dormant.  You can transplant in the spring up until the plants leaf out. When the buds are green and swollen you are usually safe to still transplant, but once the leaf develops, you should wait until fall.  If you do transplant in the spring it is very important to water the plant almost every day for most of the summer so that the plant can take up enough water to stay alive.

When transplanting you can dig the shrubs out bare root, just make sure they are out of the ground for as short a time as possible, and keep the roots damp while out of the ground.  Make sure there are no air pockets around the roots when you replant them.  When possible, it is always better to dig a ball of earth with the plants when you transplant them.  The rule of thumb is 12" of root ball for every 1" of stem caliper.  If the diameter of the stem of a tree is 2", then you should dig a root ball 24" in diameter.  Don't be afraid of cutting a few roots when you transplant.  Just try not to cut them any shorter than the above guidelines allow.  Cutting the roots will actually help to reinvigorate the plant. I t's a process simply known as root pruning.  When the roots are severed, the plant then develops lateral roots to make up for what is lost.  These lateral roots are more fibrous in nature, and have more ability to pick up water and nutrients. Some nurseries drive tractors over the plants in the field with a device that undercuts the roots of the plant just to force the plant to develop more fibrous roots.  This makes transplanting the plant the following year much more successful, and makes for a stronger and healthier plant.  The old timers root pruned by hand by forcing a spade in the ground around their plants. If you have a plant in your landscape that is doing poorly, a little root pruning while the plant is dormant could bring it around.  It's worth the effort.

Bulb Planting

If you are a gardener there are very few months that you can simply set and contemplate your navel -- so to speak.  If you are some what like my wife and I, you like the early spring flowers.  They come out sometime when the snow is still on the ground.  This does not happen very often, if ever, in Virginia.  I have lived in areas that the snow does not leave until late April and the Crocus and Snow Bells are blooming very nicely.  Of course in this area it is too warm for Snow Bells and Tulips are considered annuals.

Bulb planting is done in the fall so that the bulbs can get several weeks of cold prior to starting to grow. Most of the early bulbs such as Crocus, tulips, and Hyacinths need about 6 weeks of temperatures in the mid 40 degree range in order to develop healthy robust plants.

Select large bulbs that are dry and have some dry leaf like material attached to them.  Plant them in bunches to get the most bang for your money.  You can even plant several different kinds of bulbs together or in clumps near each other.

There are two ways in which to plant bulbs. The first is to dig a round hole about 2 to 2 ½ times the bulb diameter deep and then place some mulch in the bottom and put at least 5 to 7 bulbs in a circle. Then cover the hole over.  The second way is to take the bulbs and just throw them in the area to be planted. Where ever they land plant them.  This gives a natural look to the garden and under the proper conditions makes a real statement.  Pat and I are more formal so we tend to put the plants in groups.

A good method is to put Crocus in a group close to the front edge of the garden, then put some Muscari (Hyacinth blue bell), then some Narcissus (daffodil) and then maybe some Fritillaria ( these are flowers that have bell like blossoms).  Of course if you want you can put some tulips in the back.  This will give you a beautiful bank of flowers that will bloom until very late spring.  I’m also told that Narcissus are some what deer resistant.  If you find this to be true then there are literally hundreds of cultivars that bloom from very early spring to almost summer.  They also have trumpets of different colors, some are aromatic, some are tall, some are short, and some are absolutely small like clover.

I have only touched on the different flowers that are available through internet sellers, catalogs, and nurseries.  As with most plants you are going to get what you pay for -- very cheap plants may turn out to be very cheap plants. It is my suggestion to purchase bulbs from a reputable vendor that has some guarantee.

10/22/2006:

Well, how does your grass grow??  It is time for another application of fertilizer to your lawn.  If you have not had a soil test that tells you how much of a particular fertilizer to distribute on your lawn, use a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 at a rate of about 4 to 6 pounds per 1,000 sq ft.  This is a pure guess and may be high or low but it probably will not over load the ground.  This is why it is very important to have your soil tested about every 2-3 years.  You may be adding nutrients that are not necessary, this not only is expensive but it may pollute near by rivers streams and the Bay.

If you have not sprayed the winter weeds that are growing in your lawn now is the time to do it -- in any case it needs to be done by mid November.  Any later than that the weeds are probably not growing and the spray will have very little effect. The spray to use is most any that is designed for broad leaf weeds. If you have something other than the common winter broad leaf varieties take a sample to the county extension office for a determination of the type and suggestions as to how to get rid of the offensive critter.  If you want, I can try to help also. 

Fall is a very good time to start a mulch pile. With all of the leaves that are starting to fall, a mulch pile is very easy to start. Most of you are going to mow the grass and leaves, put them into a bag, stack them up for the garbage man or haul them to the dump yourself. If you are doing this you are half way to making a mulch pile. I nstead of hauling or having them hauled to the dump put them on a pile somewhere your spouse will not object to very strenuously.  I have mine in the back of my yard in the corner under some trees.  Once the leaves are on the ground, you do have to do a little work -- Gosh, you don’t object do you?  Spread them out in a layer of about one foot thick, sprinkle a handful of fertilizer on them and wet them down.  If you have some dirt that you can sprinkle on top - do so.  That is all there is to it for this fall.  Now just make layers on top of the pile for the rest of the winter.  The temperature inside of the pile will climb to over 120 degrees as the bacteria convert the material to humus.  All of the vegetable scraps that your house creates from now on can be placed in this pile. However, do not put meat of any kind into this pile.

This is important for at least two reasons:
 
a) The pile will stink to high heaven if it has meat .
b) You will get vermin if meat is put into the pile. 

Vegetable scraps on the other hand are nothing different from leaves, ground up sticks, or grass and will decay into the best soil conditioning material that you can buy anywhere.  Guess what, the vermin do not like it, and your cat will have nothing to do.  Next spring and again in early summer, the pile should be turned over either by hand with a pitch fork or with a roto-tiller to aireate the material.  By fall you will have a pile that is about one quarter the size of the original pile but it will be dark, crumbly and aromatic and will be ready to augment your soil.

Many of you want to add some new bushes, trees, or ornamentals to your yard, and fall is the best time to plant these items.  The reason for this is that normally we have a good supply of moisture during the fall and winter making it easier for the plants to grow.  You might think that plants and grass just go to sleep over the cold winter months but nothing is farther from the truth.  Much of the root growth occurs during the months that no leaf activity takes place.  Even the evergreen plants do not have a lot of activity in the upper portion of the plant because the cool weather inhibits the circulation of the sap and food in the plant. Moisture must be supplied in limited amounts or the living portion of the upper plant will die.  This is what happens to evergreens such as rhododendron or azalea when the ground freezes or gets dry in winter.  The wind causes water to evaporate from the leaves faster than it can be replenished by the root system.  The leaves get brown and fall from the plant. When enough of this happens the plant expires.  Of course this can happen in the rest of the year when insufficient moisture is not available. Fall is the best time to plant because of the rains and or snow provide moisture for the roots to develop prior to the hot summer starts to drain the moisture from the leaves.  Using a little of the humus from your mulch pile in the planting hole will help conserve moisture and will supply nutrients to the plant.

9/28/2006:
Well it is past the middle of September, and you are all done with reseeding and renovating your lawn -- right??  If not, you still have some time to do the work of aerating, seeding and fertilizing.  I outlined what is to be done in my last article.  The temperature is still mild with no frost in the near future; most of the time it is at least mid October before our first frost so have at it.  The cool weather grasses are going to grow very quickly especially if you supply the needed moisture.

I’m sure that you have seen some new plants starting to grow along with your new grass seed -- you know what they are.  The time for winter weeds to start growing is right now.  Get your sprayer ready to attack these obnoxious denizens of the beautiful lawn that is your pride and joy.  We must wait for at least two to three weeks after our new grass comes up to prevent harming it.  About the first or second week of October, obtain some broad leaf weed killer and mix it according to the directions on the container and spray the lawn.  In a few days the weeds will be gone and your pride and joy will be pure again.

The second feeding of your lawn will be due in October.  One third of the fertilizer that your soil test indicated is to be placed on the lawn at this time.  Also, if your soil test so indicated, one third of the lime should be added. 

Some of you are avid gardeners and have either a small patch of ground or maybe a large patch of ground for vegetables.  Now is a good time to make the ground a better place for next years vegetables.  Soil amending is easily done in the late summer or fall. You can seed the walking rows with something like clover, oats, or even rye grass.  Let the material grow and then till it in about the end of October.  This is called planting a cover crop.  The green material that you tilled in increases the organic content of the soil so that it can hold more moisture and air.

Another method is to grind up leaves and till them in to the ground.  Soil bacteria and other microbes continually break down the organic material in the soil, so it is very important to replenish this organic material every year.  The rule of thumb is that you must till in about one inch of leaves, grass, or some other organic material over the entire area.  This is about one cubic yard of “stuff” for every 100 square feet of garden.  If you do this every year, you will maintain about five percent organic matter in the soil. This is the optimum amount.  Soils that are subjected to higher temperatures decompose the organic matter more quickly therefore more “stuff” must be added.  Of course, this material should be tilled into the ground three to six months before seeds are planted.  If done closer to planting, the ground will have a nitrogen deficiency because the decaying organic matter is using up nitrogen, then after the material has been broken down, nitrogen is given up and is usable by the new plants.

9/5/2006:

Well September is here, and it is now time to do some lawn work.  I’m sure that you have received your soil analysis back from the lab.  It tells you that you need to add some number of pounds of potassium per either acre or 1,000 ft sq., some number of pounds of phosphorus, some number of pounds of nitrogen and last of all some number of pounds of magnesium and calcium.  We all know that Nitrogen, Phosphate, and Potash are the three ingredients that are listed on fertilizer bags.  They are listed as percent by weight of the bag.  If you purchase a common balanced fertilizer like 10-10-10, that means that you have 10% of the bag weight of Nitrogen, 10% of the bag weight of Phosphate and 10% of the bag weight of potash.

The lab will not tell you what kind of fertilizer to purchase -- only the number of pounds of each ingredient to use.  Therefore, you must do a little calculation to find out how much total fertilizer to purchase and of what type. Say your total area of grass is 5,000 sq ft. This is from your measure of the yard and after subtraction of the drive way, sidewalk, and flowerbeds.

Furthermore, let's say that your analysis came back stating that you needed 3 pounds of phosphate per 1,000 sq ft and 6 pounds of potash per 1,000 sq ft.  From the need we find that we need a fertilizer that has the following ratios ?-1-2.  Well you will not find a fertilizer with that analysis so since we know that it is unbalanced we know that it cannot be something like 10-10-10.  There is a standard fertilizer that is 10-5-10, or 20-10-20. Either of these will furnish the proper amount of nutrients in one fertilizer.  The lab will not tell you how much Nitrogen to add since the analysis can vary all over the map.  Now for the calculations:

Lawn: 5,000 ft sq

Fertilizer 10-5-10

Rate 3 lbs of P/1000 sq ft,

6 lbs of K/1000 sq ft.

Total fertilizer needed=

1/.1 x 5000/1000 x 6 =5000/100= 300 pounds of fertilizer

Since we are able to purchase a fertilizer with the proper ratios then all we need is one calculation as above showing that a total of 300 pounds is needed.  Of course we don’t want to put this on all at once so we do about 100 pounds in September, October and November. This will allow for the grass to absorb the nutrients without burning.

The last thing that the lab gives data on is the pH of the soil.  Good pH is anywhere from 6.2 to 7.0.  The lab will tell you how much lime to add to your soil to bring it to pH 6.2.  Or if your yard has a pH of greater than 7.0, it will tell you to add sulfur to bring the pH back to 7.0.  Most analysis give numbers in tons per acre . Again the calculations:

One acre= 43,500 sq ft

One ton = 2,000 pounds

Rate 200 pounds per acre

200lbs/acre x1acre/43500sq ft x1000 = 4.59+ pounds per 1,000 sq ft,  say 5 pounds.  If your yard is 5,000 sq ft, you need 25 pounds of lime. 

Now that you know how much fertilizer and lime to purchase, go ahead and do it along with the grass seed that you are going to use.  Last time we discussed the types of grass seed that is recommended by Virginia Tech.  When you go into the store to purchase the seed, you will not find all of the varieties listed and you will find others that are not listed.  Normally varieties not listed in the proven sheet are new and have not had enough time to be thoroughly tested. That does not make them bad it just means there is no data.

When buying the seed look at the certification tag.  It gives you a lot of information such as the analysis of the variety (s) giving the % concentration of each variety.  It tells you the germination rate (anything under 70% should not be purchased), it tells you the analysis of the seed and how much weed seed is contained. Anything with noxious weeds should be avoided.  Also it tells you where the seed was grown, a lot of the time this is in the state of Oregon.  If you can find seed grown in North Carolina it will probably be more suited to our area but this is not paramount.  Remember that reseeding an established lawn calls for about 1½ to 5 pounds of seed per 1,000 sq ft. - follow the directions on the seed bag.

Now it is time to get the lawn ready to accept the seed and fertilizer.  Cut the lawn short and gather up the clippings, aerate the lawn using a plug type aerator not the spike type that is available at a lot of the Home Shops.  The reason for this is that the spike type aerator actually compacts the ground.  Plan to go over your yard at least 2 times to put as many holes into the ground as possible.  Once this is done, use your spreader to either drop or broadcast the proper amount of seed then fertilizer on the lawn.  Water to get at least the top ½ inch moist.  Now comes the very important part KEEP that top ½ inch of ground damp for the next 7- 10 days by watering at least 2 times per day to allow the seed to germinate.  Once the grass has started to grow, water at least once per day for at least 10 days.  When the grass gets about 3 inches high cut it for the first time taking no more than ¼ inch off the top. Let the grass grow and cut often taking no more than 1/3 of its height each time. By the time 30 to 45 days roll around the grass should be about 4 -5 inches tall.

Next time we will discuss spraying for weeds in the fall.

8/16/2006:


LAWN RESTORATION

Last time I talked about how hot and dry it has been this summer. Well since that time it has rained some but not consistently so it is still a little early to do any real refurbishment of the lawn. However, it is time to do some planning. The first thing that we need to do is take a walk around the yard to assess the needs of the lawn. By doing this simple act we can see what it is that we must do. In your walk do you see a lot of crabgrass, common Bermuda (wire grass), something that looks like clover but grows in clumps, a flat spreading plant with oval leaves, very long tendrils spreading in all directions, or other non wanted plants? Most all of these unwanted plants are what we would call summer weeds. Most if not all could have been prevented if we had done two things, one was to spread the pre-emergence crabgrass preventer on the lawn and flower beds in early spring. The second thing we should have done was to spray a broadleaf weed killer on the lawn in the May-June time period. Well guess what, we did not do it for one or maybe even several reasons and now is the time to make up for the lapse.

We should take a sample of the soil to a testing lab for determination of fertilizer type and amount to add to the ground. Take a series of samples from the front, side and back yard (at least 3-4 from each area) dump them all into a container shake well then pick out any grass, sticks, and other non earth material and either take to the lab. A written report will be sent to you in approximately 5 days. Follow the directions that come with the report.

If during our walk we found mostly crab grass and nothing else that resembled nice grass, then we have a problem. As you know crab grass is an annual therefore it must reseed itself each year. It will die after the first frost. In this area lawn reseeding or renovation should not start before August 15 and preferably after September 1. If we are really anxious to do something we can kill it along with the grass that is there by spraying with a glyphosate solution (think Round-Up). This is a non selective control of plants. The weeds will begin to die within 24 hours. The glyphosate spray is neutralized by soil contact. So in about 3-5 days we can start our renovation process.

If our walk identified only bear spots and thin grass then it will be very important to follow the soil labs recommendation and once the grass is sown to keep the top ¼ inch of soil moist for at least 30 days to allow for the grass to start growing. At the very minimum the ground must be aerated and scuffed up to give the seeds good contact with the soil.

Virginia Tech publishes a list of grass seed varieties recommended for this area each year after test growing them in various places around the state. I have reproduced this list below. It is a good time to study this list and to find a supplier. These seeds are not necessarly cheep but good seed usually equals better grass than so so seed.

2005-2006 Virginia Turfgrass Variety Recommendations
Mike Goatley, Turfgrass Specialist, Virginia Tech
David McKissack, Research Specialist, Sr, Virginia Tech

The Maryland-Virginia Turfgrass Variety Recommendation Work Group meets each Spring to consider the previous year’s data from Virginia and Maryland National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) trials and to formulate these recommendations. Maryland and Virginia variety recommendations are identical for Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, fine leaf fescue and perennial ryegrass. Bermudagrass and zoysiagrass variety recommendations may differ somewhat due to adaptation and state regulation. To qualify for this recommended list turfgrass varieties; 1) must be available as certified seed or, in the case of vegetative varieties, as certified sprigs or sod; 2) must be tested at sites in both Virginia and Maryland; 3) must perform well, relative to other varieties, for a minimum of two years to make the list as a “promising” variety and for three years to make the recommended category. All test locations in Virginia and Maryland are considered in making these recommendations. The Virginia Crop Improvement Association (VCIA) will accept the 2004-2005 turfgrass mixtures listed below in the VCIA Sod Certification Program. All seed or vegetative material must be certified and meet minimum quality standards prescribed by the VCIA. Many seeding specifications (for municipalities, counties, state and governmental agencies, landscape architects, and professional organizations) state that varieties used for turfgrass establishment must come from this list and that blends or mixtures follow the guidelines for certified sod production. Specifications for state highway seeding are developed separately and may require some species and/or varieties not normally recommended for uses other than roadside seeding. Seed availability may vary between turf seed suppliers. Some species and varieties may have limited adaptation.

Kentucky Bluegrass – Individual varieties selected must make up not less than 10%, nor more than 35% of the total mixture on a weight basis. All varieties must be certified. Selections can be made from Category I alone or various combinations of Categories I, II, and III as noted.

– Individual varieties selected must make up not less than 10%, nor more than 35% of the total mixture on a weight basis. All varieties must be certified. Selections can be made from Category I alone or various combinations of Categories I, II, and III as noted.

Category I – Recommended Kentucky Bluegrass Varieties (65–100% on a weight basis)

Absolute(4), Apollo, Arcadia, Award, Awesome, Baronie(1), Beyond, Blacksburg(4), Blackstone(1), Bluechip(4), Bordeaux, Brilliant, Caliber(4) Challenger(4), Champagne(1), Champlain, Chateau(1), Chicago II, Courtyard, Coventry(1), Envicta(1), Everest, Everglade, Excursion, Fairfax(1)

5/13/2006:

Lawns

Lawns are either your pride and joy or as some homeowners say “Its green and I don’t have to do anything but cut it short.” This diversity of view is present in most all neighborhoods across the country. Some people spend a lot of time and money to make sure that their lawn is the best in the neighborhood. They obtain the services of the professional grass masters such as Scots or some other outfit that makes the grass grow so fast that it must be cut at least 4 times per week. Of course right next door is the one homeowner in the subdivision that has the most beautiful crop of crabgrass mixed with chickweed and other unwanted cultivars of the grass kingdom.

Now if you are like me, I don’t go for the star spangled super yard nor do I want a weed patch. I like a nice green color in the grass and I like it thick enough that most weeds are choked out naturally. I cut the lawn high, at least 4 inches, and try to cut only 1/3 of the grass blade at each mowing. By mowing high the ground and grass roots are kept cool. The temperature difference between ambient and the ground level is often 20 to 30 degrees F. Just think what happens when the ground stays cooler. The moisture that is present is not driven off by high heat and the roots are able to function normally. Couple this with watering about one inch per week and you have a good lawn.

Chesterfield Grass Roots Program

Chesterfield County sponsors a program to help homeowners take the mystery out of growing grass in our region. Most grasses grown in this area are cool season grasses such as tall fescue, blue grass, creeping red, or chewings fescue. For the most part these are fine bladed grasses that grow best where the average temperature does not go above 90 degrees. Some people grow warm weather grasses such as Bermuda grass, Zoysia grass or perennial ryegrass. These are the lawns that turn a honey brown after the first killing frost. The type of lawn you have determines how it should be cared for during the year. According to the Grass Roots Program, cool season grasses, i.e., tall fescue, needs to be fed heavy three times per year. This is the SON program. Fertilizer is applied in September, October and November. This used to be December but it has been found that the grass stores more nutrients in November than December.

Chesterfield County sponsors a program to help homeowners take the mystery out of growing grass in our region. Most grasses grown in this area are cool season grasses such as tall fescue, blue grass, creeping red, or chewings fescue. For the most part these are fine bladed grasses that grow best where the average temperature does not go above 90 degrees. Some people grow warm weather grasses such as Bermuda grass, Zoysia grass or perennial ryegrass. These are the lawns that turn a honey brown after the first killing frost. The type of lawn you have determines how it should be cared for during the year. According to the Grass Roots Program, cool season grasses, i.e., tall fescue, needs to be fed heavy three times per year. This is the SON program. Fertilizer is applied in September, October and November. This used to be December but it has been found that the grass stores more nutrients in November than December.

You start the program going by calling the extension office at 804-751-4401 (This is for Chesterfield only). Either Arlene or one of the other office people will take your information and will send an application to you. You fill it out and attach $20 for each soil sample that you want taken. Usually one sample is sufficient unless your yard is huge, or you want a garden tested. A master gardener will show up at your house and will survey your lawn for problems, he will then measure the total square footage of your yard, breaking up the back and front. He will then take 10-15 individual samples in the front and the same amount in the back. These are put together and mixed. The final sample is about 2 pounds taken from the mixture. This is what the soil laboratory gets.

The raw numbers from the lab are interpreted by the county Grass Roots Coordinator and a letter is sent to you. This letter specifies how much of a particular type of fertilizer needs to be applied. For ex ample the lab finds that your lawn needs 3 lbs. Of Nitrogen, 2 lbs. Of phosphorus and 6 lbs of potassium per 1000 ft2. This would be 1 lb of N, 0.66 lb phosphorus, and 2 lbs of potassium per 1000 ft2 each of the three times the lawn is fertilized. Since the above numbers are total amounts the coordinator will tell you to purchase a fertilizer like 10-5-20 and apply it at a rate of 1 lb per 1000 ft2.

In addition you will get a recommended amount of lime to add to your lawn. Lime can be added anytime during the year. Soil pH changes very slowly due to various buffering agents. If a fairly large amount of lime is needed it should be added over a 3-4 month time frame. I’m talking about 60 to 80 lbs of lime, at this amount it needs to be put down over time. The best is dolomitic lime stone in a pellet form. This will also improve the magnesium level which is needed to allow the plants to take up the Nitrogen.

During the year you will get a news letter every quarter. These letters tell you the best times to spray for weeds, the best time to reseed, and how much water is needed to keep your lawn looking like you care. This program is one of the best “how to” programs that I have seen. That number again is 804-751-4401. It closes down in June for the year - so hurry.

4/22/2006:

Garden Pests

I’m almost certain that every one of you, if you plant a garden, has been bothered with either 2 or 4 legged pests. At this time lets discuss the 4 legged kind, since I do not do police work I’m not sure that I could tell you anything you do not already know.
There are a lot of pests, among these are rabbits, groundhogs, moles, raccoons, opossums, squirrels and White Tailed Deer.

Lets start with White Tailed Deer. There are about 30 varieties in the US. Before this country was completely settled, the deer were held in check by natural enemies such as wolves and cougars. That was many years ago and since that time human population has forced the natural enemies into the hills or simply eliminated them so that the White Tail can and does live almost everywhere. Hunting helps but in many areas it is outlawed so the critters have run out of food in the forest and have taken up eating our prize Camellias.

The normal comment that most so called experts give is “Plant only those things that Deer do not like“. According to some friends about the only things that are still standing in their yard is the rhododendrons and some holly.

Daffodils, which are extreme poisons to most living things, are eaten by White Tails. Their system simply adjusts to the new food and in a day or two they can eat their fill and not get sick.

Fences usually are not good because a deer can jump an 8 foot fence with ease. Unless you want to go to at least 10 or 12 feet forget it.

Chicken wire, at least a 4 foot width, placed on the ground all the way around the garden may help since deer do not like to walk on wire.

Deer have a very highly developed sense of smell and they do not like to smell blood. Therefore one of the best repellents is to hang pouches of dried blood on the fence around the garden. There is a problem with this -- it does not smell very good and will probably attract dogs. Another repellent is human hair, pouches of hair about the size of softballs hung every 5-6 feet will do a good job. It, however, needs to be replaced every 10 days or so.

Virginia Tech., at one of their farms, use an electric fence. This is not an ordinary electric fence but a dual strand and dual row system. The rows are about 4-5 feet apart and the strands are about 4 feet high. I know that you are not going to put something like this in your yard but it may be good for a garden. This system allows the deer to jump the first one but it gets a real surprise when it lands on the second one. This will happen only one time because they learn quickly, but you cannot shut the electricity off because they can sense the charge.

Of course if all else fails get a dog that likes to chase deer, makes a lot of noise, and is not a friend of the critters to keep them away. Of course your neighbors may not like the noise -- but then again they may not mind if the dog keeps the deer out their yard.

Rabbits are timid and scare easily but they do not run very far from their home location. The best thing is to wrap chicken wire around the fruit tree trunks to a vertical distance of 24 to 36 inches. This will keep them from gnawing on the bark. Other things used by some people with various amounts of success, sprinkling Moth ball crystals around, powdered aloe, tobacco dust, cayenne pepper, wood ashes or cow manure spread around the plants sometimes will keep them from being attacked by rabbits. Again a good dog or even a large cat can be very helpful.

Groundhogs, do not have a natural enemy. The closest thing we have is a large dog that enjoys chasing these slow pests. Groundhogs will eat anything green in volumes. They come out of hibernation in February weighing about 5 pounds and by September or October they weigh over 11 pounds. The best way to keep them out of the garden is to put up a fence that is partially buried by at least 10 inches. This will discourage the groundhog.

There is only one good thing to say about a mole, it eats slugs. After this it is just a nasty pest that eats angleworms (which are good for the soil) and leaves tunnels in the ground that allow voles scamper from one root to another. Not only do they scamper but they eat roots so that plants often literally fall over. Two things are somewhat effective to keep moles out of the garden or yard. One is castor oil spray applied to the area which the moles are working. Moles do not like castor beans and will avoid them or the spray at almost any cost. Rain washes the spray away so it must be reapplied. The second thing is Milky Spore Mold. This mold attacks the Japanese beetle grub and kills it so the mole food is taken away. When the food disappears the mole goes to your neighbors yard. The Milky Spore Mold takes about 2-3 years to get strong enough to kill 95+ % of the white grubs. Then the mold is good for several years. In addition there are sprays and dry chemicals that can be used to kill the white grub. I like the natural method best because it is less detrimental to the environment.

I have talked about several pests that in large numbers can cause severe damage to our plantings. The key here is LARGE NUMBERS. In small numbers the pest is not a problem and therefore not in our sights to eradicate.

4/10/2006:

It is the beginning of April, the grass is starting to grow and you have not even looked at your trusty old lawn mower.  If you are like me, that lawn mower got parked in the garage or in the utility shed after the last pick up of leaves in the fall and it is still setting right where you put it.  One of these days you are going to want to fire that trusty grass cutter up and cut some grass.  If nothing was done to the machine you may find that it does not want to start.  Gasoline setting in the carburetor all winter may have plugged those small orifices with something that looks like varnish.  The spark plug probably has a lot of Carbon around it.  When you pull the starter cable nothing happens.  It does not even backfire. 

Unless you are mechanically inclined it may be time to load the old mower up in the trunk or the pickup and take it to the local repair man.  If he is like most repair people he is completely covered up by all of the work he has to do because everyone waited to the last minute to get something done.  This column will give everyone some hints this fall on how to avoid these problems.

All of your hand tools also need some help if you didn’t clean them the last time that you used them.  This is relatively simple, they need to be cleaned of rust and dirt, this can be done with a wire brush and some sandpaper.  Then spray a little WD-40  on them and they will look like you just purchased them. 

Raised Beds

If you do not have a lot of  room for a garden and you like to have fresh tomatoes, radishes, and any other vegetable a raised bed can be the savior to you problem.  A raised bed is simply a structure made from boards about 8 inches high built  in to the form of a square or rectangle.  The distance across the structure should be a comfortable reach to facilitate planting and weeding.  This structure is placed on the ground and filled with good soil. 

Starting in the spring radishes and lettuce are planted in rows about 6 inches apart.  By the end of May the first crop, radishes and lettuce, are done so now we can plant tomatoes and squash or anything else you might want to plant.  Beans are another good item.  Use your imagination. 

Raised beds work because of the deep soil, soil temperature, and good drainage.  Because the bed is above the level of the ground it will get a little warmer than the surrounding soil.  The bed is a small space so it is easy to water and weed it.  Of course this raised bed must be placed in a location where sun light hits it at least 5 - 6 hours per day. 

If rodents start giving you a fit you may want to set the wooden side boards on a mat of ¼ inch mesh wire.

03/24/06:

Grass

Well, how does your grass look right about now?  Did all of the work you put in last fall make any difference or does your lawn look as if it has been over grazed by a herd of hungry sheep?

Last fall you aerated, fertilized, and seeded large parts of your lawn and then it did not rain for weeks at a time. You decided to use the lawn sprinkler, not the underground one because you do not have one, but rather you used the handy dandy one that you purchased at the local hardware store. For about 3 days you did a fine job of keeping the soil moist, but then you had to go out of town for 3 days. By the time you came back the soil was again dry. Well most likely you did not get a good stand of grass. This brings on one of those times that a firm decision must be made. Follow the established SOD, or SON practices of grass planting or plant some grass now.

It is time to put down some crabgrass pre-emergence chemical, we know this because Forsythia suspensa, is in full bloom. If we put down (Benefin, Bensulide, Dithiopyr, DCPA, Oxasiazon, Pendimethalin, Prodiamine, or any one of the pre-emergence chemicals) and then think we can seed some grass we have a problem because the pre-emergence chemical will work on the grass just like it works on the crabgrass.

Well, science has once again given us a helping hand. A chemical called Siduron (Tupersan) can be used to kill the emerging crabgrass but it will not kill the emerging cool weather grass like fescue. Do not use on Bermuda grass. It is a little hard to find, but Southern States or a good nurseryman should have it. Follow directions very carefully, presented here because they may not be as specific on the bag. On new spring plantings put 4-1/2 oz. Of 50% wetable powder per 1000 sq. ft. Then a second application of the same amount 1 month later. Also remember that at least ½ inch of rain is needed within 3 days of application. The Siduron will cost you more than some of the other pre- emergence chemicals but you can plant grass in those bare spots. Just remember unless you are very careful about water, you may have to redo some of your work in the fall.

By the way Siduron is one of the chemicals that is approved by the pest management guide. Nothing will ever be recommended to you if it is not mentioned in the current Pest Management Guide.  For information concerning grass, see the Village News article "A Health Mix of Lawn Grass is in the Bag".

03/12/06:

Mulch
Mulch is used for many things in the garden, it is used to keep the garden weed free, it is used to preserve moisture levels at near optimum levels, and it is used to create a more aesthetic look. The proper depth of mulch between garden rows or around house plantings can spell life or death to your plants.
Mulch can be almost anything, going from chopped up tires to pine tags or paper. It all depends on what look you are trying to achieve and what will be the purpose of the mulch. Many people are not terribly interested in fussing with their plantings around the house but still want to make the house look as if it is cared for by gardeners. They might put down some landscape cloth and then put small rocks on top of the cloth. This is fairly permanent but it lacks the personal touch that shows that this owner is proud of his plantings.

A much better mulch is partially decomposed pine bark. It can be applied directly to the ground or on landscape cloth. It is course enough to let rain water through without packing to a tight water resistant layer.

You should never use fresh wood chips or fresh bark chips because as they begin to break down they rob nitrogen from the ground to sustain the bacterial action of breaking down the cellulose. After this bacterial action has been taking place for some time the break down starts to give up some nitrogen thereby helping the plant. Mulch should not come in contact with the trunk of the tree or bush, leave at least 2 - 3 inches of bare dirt around the trunk and slowly increase the depth of the mulch to about 2 inches at a distance of 18 to 24 inches beyond the trunk.

Under NO circumstances pile the mulch around the tree like it is a volcano this has the effect of sealing the ground and the plant will suffer because no air will get to the roots.

In the yard away from the house trees can be mulched in the same way as shrubs. The mulch should not be more than 2 inches thick and can extend to the drip line of the tree. If this is offensive to you, plant a bush such as azalea or rhododendron, it will enjoy the mulched ground and the tree will enjoy not competing with grass for water. If you must have grass plant something like Creeping Red Fescue that enjoys partial shade.

2/27/06:

Today starts a new item in the Chester Kiwanis Home Web page. My name is Ted Rayman and I would like to share with you some of the knowledge that I have managed to absorb over the years. My wife and I have for years planted things in our yard with various amounts of success. We made some mistakes by not paying a lot of attention to basic Horticultural practices. With that in mind lets explore the art of Pruning.
Pruning Practices

Tools

First, what do you need for pruning that unsightly bush by the drive way? Shears, saws, and hedge trimmers make up the most commonly used implements for pruning. Shears come in at least 3 varieties. Scissor action types that have one jaw sharp and the other jaw curved. The jaws slide by each other creating a very clean cut on stems up to about ¾ inch in diameter. Anvil shears are normally used for very small branches because they tend to crush the stem if the blade is not kept very sharp. The last is the loping shear. This shear has long handles and very short scissor action blades that can cut up to 2” in diameter. Pruning saws are used for larger branches and chain saws are used for destruction.

Why Prune

There are only about 4 reasons for pruning

a) To train the plant to grow in a certain way (espalier),
b) To maintain plant health (cut out dead growth),
c) To improve the quality of flowers, fruit, foliage, or stems, and last of all, d) To restrict growth

Pruning tends to encourage the plant to replace lost branches, therefore, many times the plant will over correct and send up a multitude of branches that grow straight up these will have to be removed next year.

That bush at the end of the driveway needs help so we make a plan, we want to remove the dead branches, restrict its growth from wanting to take over the entire entrance to the homestead.

When to Prune

Most pruning is done in the late winter or early spring but can be done most anytime during the year on most plants. The exception being those plants that bear flowers on last years growth. Prime examples are azaleas and rhododendrons. These plants grow flower buds during the summer and bloom in the spring. They must be pruned immediately after blooming, otherwise blooms will be cut off during pruning

Get Set to Do It

We choose our tools, a set of pruning shears and a small pruning saw.

According to our plan we must remove all dead branches or canes down to the level of the ground or to the point at which they come out of the stump. Next we look at the plant very carefully and select branches that cross over one another and in the process rub one another. Cut the offending branches to just above a bud facing outward. (This can be a small branch). The outward facing requirement makes the plant get thicker. Next we look for branches growing straight up, these are called water spouts, cut these off next to the branch from which they are growing. Now stand back and take good look at what you have done.

Have You Gone Far Enough

If you have taken close to 1/3 of the green material out -- quit. The general rule is do not remove more than 1/3 of a plant in any one year. If the pruning so far is very minimal we can now shape or try to restrict the size of the plant. If the item is a tree type plant and has a central trunk, trimming off the top of this trunk will tend to stop the growth of the plant upward. In a year or so another central branch will start to grow and if we still want to keep the plant from growing upward it will have to be cut. Most every branch that you cut will develop at least 2 buds that grow to make the plant bushier. Again, lets take a look at what we have done. It is better to do less cutting and let the plant get on with its growing than to severely injure it. Use your own judgment -- if you are not sure that more can be done QUIT.
Clean Up

The last two things to do is to clean up the cut out branches and clean up the tools. If the branches are good and have no obvious problems they can be shredded into the mulch pile but if they have galls or are diseased discard them to the dump.

The tools should be cleaned of all vegetable matter then disinfected with some rubbing alcohol then sprayed with some WD-40 so that when they are needed again they will be free of rust and will not spread any disease to the plants that we will use them on.

More Information

If more information is needed there are several excellent locations that may be accessed one of which is http://www.hortsource.com/rlPpruning.htm


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Published on: 2006-02-27 (66741 reads)

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