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

Spring weather is coming—Punxsutawney Phil forecasted it!

—Walt Nelson, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Monroe County


Almanac: September-October 2018

by cathym on September 5, 2018

What To Do in the Garden in September & October

Planting spring flowering bulbs

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.

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.

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.

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.


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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Almanac: July-August 2018

by cathym on July 2, 2018

Buddy the Boston terrier helping to move plants, Rush, NY.

The dog days of summer are upon us. Ever wonder where that expression came from? Is it because it’s too hot even for a dog to get up and run around? Not exactly. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the dog days start July 3 and run for 40 days, ending August 11. This coincides with the rising of the Dog Star, Sirius. Regardless of how the saying started or where it came from, we all think of this time of year as hot and sultry. Consider doing your gardening chores first thing in the morning or in the cool of the evening rather than in the heat of the day.

Watering Needs
In the heat of the summer, monitor your new plantings for watering needs. A general rule of thumb is that plants need one inch of water per week. If Mother Nature does not provide it, you need to. Drip or trickle irrigation will deliver water directly to the root zone, which is great for vegetable plants. If they do not get adequate water, your vegetables will not develop normally. Try to water early in the day so the foliage has a chance to dry off by nightfall. Wet foliage can lead to disease issues. Using mulch will help maintain soil moisture and help keep weeds—which will steal moisture and nutrients from your plants—down. Avoid frequent, light watering. Instead, water deeply at wider intervals and let the water soak in. This will encourage new roots to grow deeper into the soil. Don’t forget to water trees and shrubs that have been planted in the last three years. They are still establishing their root systems. During periods of drought, street trees can also use a drink.

Daylily care during July
Peak bloom is usually during the month of July. Removing spent blooms (deadheading) daily keeps daylilies looking great. While deadheading, check for pests or diseases, and also remove any unsightly foliage. Once blooms are done you can remove the scapes for a nicer appearance. This is also a good time to make note of any daylilies that may need to be divided once they are done blooming or in the fall.

July and August is a good time to give houseplants a rest. Keep them watered and in a shady spot. Growth may slow down a bit as they rest. Tropical plants on the other hand need the sun but afternoon shade is always a nice respite for all plants. Water is a must along with good drainage. 

Many of our lawns are made up of Kentucky bluegrass, which is a cool-season plant. Hot, dry summers stress it out. Without rain or irrigation, it will go dormant and turn brown until more favorable conditions arrive in autumn. Mow grass one-half inch higher than usual during the summer months to help conserve soil moisture. Do not remove clippings from the lawn unless the grass is excessively tall or weedy. Clippings return some nutrients to the soil and do not add to thatch buildup. When watering lawns, you should apply one to one-and-a-half inches of water in a single application per week. Keep newly established lawn watered during dry weather. Allow water to penetrate deeply into the soil rather than watering frequently and lightly. Frequent, light sprinklings encourage roots to stay shallow, making them more susceptible to drought.

Annuals are great for color throughout the summer. To keep them flowering, deadhead spent flowers and pinch back lanky annuals to encourage new growth and more blossoms. Coleus flowers should also be removed. When watering add a bit of fertilizer, especially to container plantings. If you have annuals that are distorted or oddly colored they may be infected with a virus. To prevent viruses from spreading to healthy plants remove the infected ones and put them in the garbage, not the compost pile.

In the vegetable garden, this is prime harvest time. Pick ripe fruits and vegetables to encourage more production. Fertilize producing crops, but avoid too much on tomatoes. Late crops in the garden like squash and cucumbers need fertilizer to keep producing. Sweet corn could be showing signs of earworms so treat as necessary. Pinch out basil flowers to keep the plants producing foliage. As space becomes available plant seeds or seedlings of cool-weather, short-season crops like lettuce, radish and spinach that will mature before a hard frost.

Pest Problems
You may find yourself trying to outsmart the local wildlife this summer. Depending upon what types of fruits and vegetables you are growing, July and August can be a prime month for four legged pest problems. Rabbits enjoy salad greens and squirrels like tomatoes as much as we do, birds will devour your fruit, and deer may nibble on anything they find. You may need to erect a sturdy fence around your garden if you haven’t already. Bird netting can help deter birds from stealing your fruit before you can pick it.

Remain vigilant and continue pulling those weeds. Be ready to attack any weeds that plague your garden. Try not to let them go to seed! Don’t put weeds that have gone to seed in your compost pile. Unless your compost pile heats up, those seeds will survive only to cause problems next year.

Be on the lookout for the beginning of late blight in your tomatoes and potatoes. tracks confirmed cases of late blight. By checking the site you can track its progress from the southern states and take precautions when it makes it to New York. Late blight is considered to be a “community” disease and should not be ignored. Infected plants should be destroyed so that they do not continue to spread the disease. Fungicides need to be applied preventively for late blight. Chlorothalonil is the most effective conventional fungicide available to gardeners to help prevent plants from becoming infected. For organic production a copper fungicide is recommended. When using any pesticide always read and understand the label.

Take a walk around the garden and photograph it. Take photos from different sight lines. This can help you notice holes or sad plants that need replacement or a better location. It is also a great way to document the garden for future reference.

August is a great month to find bargain plants at nurseries and garden centers. Look for season extending plants to add to your garden for autumn awesomeness. Start planning for fall planting. Containerized plants are a safe bet if you keep them watered. August is also the “last call” if you are ordering spring flowering bulbs to plant in the garden or for forcing indoors. Get your orders in so your bulbs arrive at the proper time for fall planting.

Take advantage of all the garden tours going on as many of them are free. What better way to be inspired than to learn from other gardeners? Buffalo Garden Walk is July 28 and 29, from 10 am to 4 pm. Check out Open Gardens on Thursdays in July or look for other weekend community garden tours. Listings can be found at

This summer sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Better yet, float in the pool!

—Jan Beglinger and the Genesee County Master Gardeners