almanac

Almanac: May – June 2019

by cathym on May 8, 2019

Here come the seedlings

“So much to do, so little time” could be the mantra for this time of the year. How lucky gardeners are whose work is such a joy! 

When buying plants, choose compact, healthy specimens with unopened buds, or plan to remove the flowers before planting so energy goes into establishing good roots. Check for chewing and puncture wounds on both sides of leaves. And yes… read the plant tags. Place plants in the soil at the proper depth. Keep in mind “right plant, right place” to avoid disappointment later. Be sure to spider (spread) out the roots. And don’t forget to try at least one new plant! Consider a native to help pollinators and birds.

Grew plants from seed? Be sure to harden them off and to place collars around them so cut worms don’t make you cry after all your work. Direct-sowing seeds into the garden soil? Be sure to thin the seedlings to prevent crowding and competition for light, water, and food.

Still have foliage from spring bulbs? Leave it so the leaves can re-nourish the bulbs for next year. Your annuals and perennials planted nearby will soon hide them. Want to divide or move your spring bulbs? Do it after the foliage dies.

In early May to early June you can cut back perennials such asphlox, bee balm, sedum, asters, and goldenrod by one-third to one-half. (This is called the “Chelsea Chop,” named after the flower show that takes place at this time in London.) The plants will flower later and be more compact. You might try only cutting back some of them so there are blooms over a longer period of time. While you are pruning you can cut back spring flowering perennials such as pulmonaria, brunnera, and perennial geraniums after they bloom. They will reward you with fresh leaves and sometimes more flowers. And while you are pruning cut back to the ground one-third of the oldest stems of weigela, forsythias, and spiraea. Then remove the wilted seed heads from azaleas and rhododendrons so energy goes to the foliage rather than to the making of seeds.

While you are at it, place stakes next to taller flowering plants or put other supports over them so they can grow up through them without damage to foliage and flowers later in the season. Rethink at least one of your gardens. Begin to make changes now. 

Check the Cornell Recommended Vegetable list for suggested and disease resistant varieties of vegetables and fruits. When the soil is warm, about 50 degrees Fahrenheit (soil, not air!), you will be able to plant tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers (all relatives, by the way) as well as cole crops, beans, and root crops. If May was too warm you can try reseeding spinach. Be sure to try Swiss chard both for its edibility and its beauty. This is also a good time to plant dahlias, gladiolas, lilies, begonias, and cannas.

Continue to cut or snap off your asparagus spears at ground level. Remove rhubarb flower stalks so the plant energy doesn’t go to the seeds. Pull each edible stalk from the base and twist to harvest, but don’t harvest more than half of the stalks. 

Need to move a tree or shrub? Evaluate the new site to make sure it will have the best growing conditions for success: the right light, soil pH, and exposure. Ideally you will have pruned the roots several months ago to encourage the tree or shrub to produce some new feeder roots. Make sure the root ball is not dry and is covered during the move. Prepare the new hole in advance of the move. (See Cornell University Information Bulletin 24 for more information.) Keep newly planted trees, shrubs, vegetables, perennials, and flowers well watered (about one inch per week). This is also a good time to make softwood cuttings, before plant tissue hardens.

Put diatomaceous earth at the base of your hostas. Since slugs can climb up the leaves from the ground you may consider pruning back hosta leaves that arch to touch the ground. 

Still have a lawn? Mow lawn at least three inches high. This encourages deeper, healthier root growth. Leave grass clippings on the lawn toreturn nutrients to the soil. You can skip a spring lawn feeding if desired as the late autumn feeding is far more important. A top dressing of compost is an excellent and natural fertilizer. For optimal pre-emergent crabgrass control, do not apply until soil is close to 60 degrees. Crabgrass doesn’t germinate until the soil temperature two inches deep is between 60 and 64 degrees. Applying when the ground is too cold is a waste of money and chemicals. 

Don’t let your vegetable and garden waste go to waste! If you are not composting this is a good time to start. Consider worm composting for indoors or begin composting outdoors. When it is finished you will be thrilled when adding your compost to all of your garden beds as well as a quarter inch to your lawn.

Thin out excess immature fruit from your fruit trees to ensure fruit of a reasonable size and to keep the trees strong. Then gradually move your houseplants outdoors when night temperatures are above 50 degrees. 

Whew! If you do all this, you will have an incredible garden. 

—Carol Ann Harlos and Lyn Chimera, Master Gardeners, Erie County

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Almanac: March – April 2019

by cathym on March 19, 2019

Early spring is one of the most difficult times for timely tips. How we transition from snow and biting cold to chilly or even balmier weather depends on the year. The following suggestions, created with upstate New York still in winter’s grip, take a middle ground.  Some suggestions maybe too late. Others could be put off for several more weeks.

The period around the equinox (March 20, 2019) is good for fertilizing house plants. Unless they are growing exclusively under lights, longer, brighter days stimulate renewed growth. Nutrients provided this time of year jump start this springtime flush.

Hopefully, your vegetable and flower seed orders have arrived. The packs of onions, leeks, celeriac, and celery are likely sown, and, if they aren’t, although it is not too late, the transplants they produce might be less than ideal in size when they go into the garden starting in late April and early May. This is prime time for sowing warm season crops such as peppers and tomatoes.

Spring-flowering, deciduous shrubs cut and brought indoors will sprout blooms months before they naturally flower outdoors. Cut the stems on a day above freezing and submerge them in a pail of warm water for a couple hours. Then place the branches in a tall container in a dimly lit space. Consider spritzing those stems with water, as that keeps the bark supple and allows the swelling buds an easier way to push through. Changing the water daily slows the growth of bacteria and fungi in the water. Both of these, when taken up by the xylem, “clog the plumbing” and interfere with bud development.

Depending on the plant, the chilling requirement has almost certainly been met by now. Some were reset to bloom shortly after Christmas (forsythia, red maple, pussy willow, and serviceberry, for example). Others, such as crabapple, redbud, and magnolia, require longer dormancy. Display all these flowering stems out of direct sun and warm drafts for the longest enjoyment.

Cherry branches are good candidates for forcing indoors.

If spring bulbs such as tulips, hyacinths, and daffodils were potted and put in the refrigerator last fall, plan to remove them a month prior to when you want the floral display. Only a couple of weeks is required for forcing crocus, snow drops, and winter aconite.

Venture outside during a break in the weather and examine trees and shrubs for evidence of the ravages of winter. Without foliage it is much easier to discern damage that either you or a professional should tend to. Healthy trees can benefit from preventative maintenance such as reducing their crown size. This reduces the severity of storm damage in the future. Look also for egg masses on the bark. Gypsy Moth cycles in our area occasionally. The Spotted Lantern Fly was found in the central Finger Lakes and Rochester last year. The manila egg masses of both are somewhat similar, and scraping them off helps slow the spread of these invasive insects.

Deciduous shrubs respond well to regular pruning. (For instance, by keeping stem diameter of lilacs to less than an inch, the likelihood of a lilac borer infesting a stem is close to zero). Pruning late in the dormant season, before bud break, guides new growth to the direction you want. It’s a good idea, but not required, to prune annually. With a little pruning each year, glaring evidence of a significant pruning is avoided and the plant’s stature remains somewhat constant.

First, select for removal disease and damaged branches. Then, remove the oldest and largest diameter branches. I might remove a quarter but no more than a third of a shrub’s branches. Cut the stems close to the ground. Pruning high in the shrub or removing only branch ends fosters a taller plant with blooms that are up in the air and more difficult to see from the ground. These pruned stems may be forced indoors as described previously.

The most productive fruiting stems of blueberry and currant shrubs are less than four years old. A plant with a dozen or so stems with a mix of one, two and three years old, maximizes yield potential and makes fruit harvesting easier.

Evergreen shrubs such as yew (Taxus spp.) and boxwood (Buxus spp.), particularly those trained as a hedge, benefit from some selective deep pruning. Without that, leaves grow in a narrow band on the plant’s edge. Removing a mid-forearm’s length stem, creating a fist-size hole, (or less with a very small boxwood) exposes dormant buds of the interior to light. These then sprout and grow.

Few of us really want to see the bare lower stems of an evergreen shrub. (An exception might be when creating a bonsai or topiary.) Keep hedge foliage growing close to the ground by trimming the hedge in a trapezoid, with a broad base and narrow top. Vertical sides or broad tops encourage naked lower stems.

Early-season working of the soil depends on the clay content and slope of the land. Working soil that is too wet destroys its tilth, or structure. Make an assessment of soil’s workability by taking a small handful and gently compressing it to a ball in your hand. Now, with the ball in your open palm, gently poke it. If it crumbles, soil work can commence. If the ball resists breaking, then the soil is too wet. Try again a week or so later, unless rainfall keeps the soil saturated.

If springtime cabin fever is an annual event and your soil is not receptive to early cultivation, consider creating raised beds with or without artificial sides. Being higher than the surrounding ground, these areas drain earlier and may be prepared sooner.

The addition of organic matter, particularly compost, is another aid for improving drainage that facilitates early season gardening activity.

In recent years, gardeners reported sightings of invasive worms in their landscape. This time of the year, look for coffee-ground like castings on the soil surface. For unexplained reasons, in 2018, the number of worms significantly dropped in many areas of the Rochester and Finger Lakes as well as part of the lower Hudson Valley. Young Asian worms are most easily seen by mid-May. Look for the telltale blond or gray clitellum or band near the worm’s head. If you find any, consider putting a pin on the virtual map found at nyimapinvasives.org.

Spring weather is coming—Punxsutawney Phil forecasted it!

—Walt Nelson, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Monroe County

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Almanac: September-October 2018

by cathym on September 5, 2018

What To Do in the Garden in September & October

Planting spring flowering bulbs

AUTUMN GARDENING CHORES
Remove, pick up, and discard any diseased plants or leaves. Disinfect your pruners as you move from plant to plant to prevent spreading fungal spores, bacteria, phytoplasma, and viruses.

Divide early-summer–blooming perennials that have become overgrown, show diminished bloom, or have a bare spot in the clump center (doughnut). Do this in early fall while there is still enough time for the roots to settle in for the winter.

Deadhead (cut off the flower/seed heads) plants that seed freely unless you want seedlings. This will cut down on your weeding next year. Leave the seed heads of astilbe, black-eyed-Susan, coneflower, and daisies intact to provide food for birds and winter interest.

Remove weeds to prevent both perennial and annual weeds from getting a head start in the spring.

Add compost to your beds to improve soil texture and promote beneficial microbes to prepare the garden for next spring.

Spread fallen leaves to serve as a protective mulch for your plants.

Don’t heavily prune trees or shrubs at this time. Pruning now may prevent hardening off and encourage new growth that can be killed back during the winter.

Don’t prune lavender, azaleas, viburnums, rhododendrons, forsythias, or spiraea.

BULBS, TUBERS, AND CORMS
Plant spring flowering bulbs from mid-September through October to allow bulbs to set strong roots—resulting in more successful blooms.

It’s difficult to tell the top from the bottom of some bulbs. The skin is loose at the top and attached at the bottom. If you can’t tell, plant them sideways.

To deter moles, voles, and squirrels, ring the planting area with a mixture of soil and gravel or put small chicken wire between the bulbs and soil surface.

Plant bulbs two-to-three times as deep as their height, or a little deeper for naturalizing varieties.

Dig and store summer-blooming tubers such as caladium and elephant ear before frost and tuberous begonias, cannas, and dahlias after the foliage is blackened by frost.

FRUITS – VEGETABLES – HERBS
Pot up some of your garden herbs and bring them in the house for fresh herbs during the winter.

Cover plants if early frost is expected.

Harvest frost-tender veggies and herbs such as basil, tomatoes, beans, peppers, eggplants, squash, and pumpkins.

Don’t wait too long before picking pears—they ripen from the inside out. Take a fruit in your hand and tilt it horizontally. If the fruit comes off the branch it is time to pick your pears.

Cut off the growing tip of each tomato stem to prevent new flowering. The energy will then go into the tomatoes already on the vine.

Continue watering into the autumn so developing vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers mature.

Allow winter squash such as butternut and acorn to fully ripen on the vine. The rind will be hard and not easily punctured. Harvest before the frost.

Harvest onions when the bulbs are mature and the tops start to turn yellow. Store in a dry place.

Plant radishes, kale and spinach for your last crops of the season.

Plant your largest garlic cloves around Columbus Day about three inches deep.

Plant cover crops or spread composted manure or compost over unplanted areas.

Mulch carrot rows for winter harvesting.

LAWNS
September is the best time to fertilize your lawn or seed a new one. Remember to water newly seeded areas regularly to keep the soil moist. Choose high quality seed appropriate for your site.

Overseed bare spots in the lawn. Filling in bare spots helps prevent weeds in those areas next year.

Check your lawn for grubs by lifting up about one square foot of sod. If there are more than 10–12 grubs per foot you may want to treat the lawn.

GENERAL

Don’t spread mulch until the ground freezes.

Trees, shrubs or any newly planted perennials should be  kept well-watered until the soil freezes.

In late September, bring in any houseplants that have been outside or annuals you want to winter over. Give the foliage a good soapy bath and check them carefully for insects. Keep them isolated from your other houseplants for two to three weeks. Do this is before you have to turn on the furnace. This cuts down on the shock of moving inside.

Harvest sunflowers when the seeds are firm. (Cover with mesh if birds are a problem.) Cut the heads with about a foot of stem. Hang in a dry area to complete seed ripening.

Watch out for Asian ladybugs, stink bugs and western conifer seed bugs that enter homes looking for warmth and shelter. Caulking and weather stripping helps prevent their entry. They are not harmful and can be vacuumed up. Empty the vacuum bag to dispose of them.

This is the time for fall webworm (Hyphantria cunea). Spraying is not necessary. Consider hosing down the webs to disturb the cycle.

Take pictures of your gardens. Make notes for next year’s gardens now—what worked, what didn’t; what to add, remove, or move. You think you will remember next year, but you won’t!

Plant winter pansies, ornamental kale, and mums. In October bring some pumpkins and gourds to the landscape for seasonal interest.

—Lyn Chimera and Carol Ann Harlos, Erie County Master Gardeners

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