Pat Curran

Almanac: March-April 2017

by janem on March 17, 2017

March Edibles
Start onion/leek/celeriac seeds early in the month. Consider getting a heated germination mat. After the seeds germinate, take the plants off the mat and place about 4 inches below hang fluorescent or LED lights.

Start pepper, eggplant, and parsley seeds late in the month if you are in zone 6 or a warm microclimate of zone 5 (otherwise, early April). Soak parsley seeds in lukewarm water for a few hours first. Use the germination mat. Move to the light setup as soon as the seeds sprout.

If you have overwintered vegetable plants in a cold frame, make sure they don’t get overheated. If there are root veggies in the garden, dig them up as soon as you can before they resume growth or rodents get to them. Harvest overwintered leaf veggies (FEDCO Seeds has a great list of extra-hardy veggies that can be wintered over with the help of a cold frame or low tunnels or mulch.) Egyptian onion, also known as perennial or walking onion, needs no winter protection and provides an early harvest.

It’s time to start pruning fruit trees (except peaches) and grapes, before they leaf out. If you grow fall raspberries, and prefer to get the large crop in late summer and fall, prune all the canes down to the ground. ‘Polana’ is a great variety that fruits for over two months starting in mid-August. I avoid ‘Heritage’ due to late fruiting and susceptibility to Phytophthora root rot.

March Ornamentals
Observe where the snow melts first. This is your warmest microclimate. Consider putting your earliest spring bloomers there, such as snowdrops, winter aconites, and hellebores. Also, keep track of where the snow lingers longest. This is your coolest microclimate. When designing  your landscape, consider this site for plants that tend to sprout too early and get damaged by late spring frosts. By mulching heavily and siting them in a cooler spot, they will stay dormant later and hopefully avoid such damage.

Watch out for water that accumulates on top of frozen ground. Consider covering sensitive alpines with a bucket or plastic box to prevent this. Water puddles can kill evenwinter-hardy plants such as purple poppy-mallow. Plant them on a slope to allow the water to drain away.

Winter is a great time to plan garden improvements because the architecture of your design is most apparent then. Take a photo of an area of your garden, and print it out on 81/2” x 11” paper.  Tape a sheet of tracing paper over the photo and, with a pencil, sketch shapes and sizes that you might like to add to the picture. Sketch circles and sweeping lines of various lengths for shrubs and grasses. Use a stick and ball to represent flowering perennials. Is there a view you would like to maximize or hide? Use colored pencils to enhance your design.

Now is also a good time to evaluate and prune your ornamental trees and shrubs, except for species that are considered ‘bleeders’. Maples, birch, yellowwood, magnolia, linden, willow, and nut trees are just a few trees that should be pruned a little later, after the sap is finished running.

This is a good time to repot houseplants and resume fertilizing lightly. Look for problems such as insects. Leggy plants such as angel wing begonias can be pruned and the cuttings rooted.

April Edibles
Start tomato, broccoli, cabbage, and basil seeds indoors in mid-month (if you will have enough space under your fluorescent lights). Start fava beans in individual cells or pots late in March or early in April, depending on your microclimate. This is a bean that tolerates light frosts, so plant the seedlings outside later in the month, to get production before hot weather.

In late April, move pepper, eggplant, and basil seedlings to individual pots indoors. Consider applying black plastic or IRT (infrared transmitting) mulch to warm up the soil in the veggie garden where you want to plant heat-loving crops.

If spring weather permits, direct-seed cold-tolerant veggies such as peas, spinach, lettuce, radishes and carrots around midmonth.

Finish pruning fruit trees (except peaches) and grapes before they leaf out. Prune berry plants per recommendations. Consider applying row cover on strawberry plantings. Fertilize blueberries with an acid fertilizer such as ammonium sulfate (NOT aluminum sulfate) and/or apply elemental sulfur to keep the pH acid enough.

April Ornamentals
Protect early-sprouters from late spring frosts. Candidates for protection include the true lilies, Japanese painted fern fiddleheads, Kirengeshoma species, and crown imperial, all of which have been zapped one time or another in my zone 5 frostpocket location. You can use the same covers that you employ to protect your tomato plants in fall: old sheets and blankets that are not too heavy, cardboard boxes, or upside-down buckets. Avoid using sheet plastic and tarps. Do not rush to cut off last year’s foliage as it does protect the crown and emerging sprouts.

Early April is a good time to divide Solomon Seal before the stems elongate, and bloodroot before it sprouts. Later in the month, it may be time to remove last year’s stalks from mums, and divide the clumps if needed. Also, it’s a good time to divide many hardy perennials such as phlox, Siberian iris, Hosta, daylilies, asters, Helenium, Boltonia, Heliopsis, Shasta daisy, and so on. Bearded irises may be divided, but they probably won’t bloom this year. Lavender, culinary sage, Russian sage, and butterfly bush can have dead wood trimmed off late in the month, when winter damage and live buds can be distinguished.

Protect crocuses and tulips from animal damage. Crocuses are particularly vulnerable because a new corm needs to be formed each year; they do not have persistent true bulbs like tulips. A mulch of pea gravel helps to discourage digging, and then repellent sprays are needed once they sprout. A deer fence helps, but I suspect rabbits may also browse on the foliage.

If the spring is dry, and you have plantings that receive salty runoff, water them heavily to flush the salt down below the root zone. Prune off branches damaged by salt spray, and make a mental note to install a burlap screen to prevent salt damage next winter.

Use your germination heat mat for getting heat-loving tropical ‘bulbs’ such as caladiums started. Use shallow pots until they sprout. Depending on your microclimate, you may need to pot them up again before they can be safely planted outside. Other tender ‘bulbs’ such as dahlias and cannas can be potted up early, but should grow at normal indoor room temperature.

— Pat Curran and the Tompkins County Master Gardeners

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JULY
In the food garden
Continue to cut off curly garlic scapes to encourage larger bulbs. You may be able to harvest garlic in late July.

Remove spotted or yellow leaves from your tomatoes. This will slow down early blight and septoria leaf blight. If you suspect late blight, take leaf samples or pictures to your local Extension office.

Protect berries from the birds with bird netting. If some berries look moist or misshapen, check for the maggots of the two-spotted drosophila fruit fly. Destroy all the bad fruit. If a lot of fruit has been set, you can then use rowcover to keep the fruit flies out, but this will also prevent further pollination so wait until they are done flowering. Consult Cornell CE for spray recommendations. Also look out for the marmorated stink bug. The Cornell Insect Diagnostic Lab has good links for both pests at http://idl.entomology.cornell.edu/factsheets/

Keep your food plants weeded, watered, and mulched. Blueberry bushes are particularly sensitive to drought. A five-gallon bucket with holes, next to each bush, provides an easy way to water and measure how much water you’re applying (10 gallons each is good in drought situations, once or twice a week).

Keep tomato branches inside their cages, and guide melon and squash vines.

This is the last month to plant these veggies for a fall crop if you are in zone 5: snap beans, peas, cucumbers, carrots, kohlrabi, summer squash, early sweet corn, green onions. Zone 6 gardeners get a couple more weeks of growing season. Cover newly planted seeds with rowcover to keep them cooler and moist.

It’s time to renew or move the strawberry bed. Moving the plants allows a thorough weed removal, and then there’s still time to plant a succession crop (see above).

Keep the asparagus bed weeded. You shouldn’t be harvesting any longer. Look out for asparagus beetles; drop them in soapy water.

To maximize basil harvest and prevent blooming, cut plants back by one-third, rather than just plucking leaves. You can probably do this three times. You can overwinter a few basil plants in pots on a warm sunny windowsill (put parsley on your cooler windowsill).

Handpick Japanese beetles, Colorado potato beetles, etc. Look for the eggs on undersides of leaves. Use B.t on cabbage family plants. Remember B.t will also kill the caterpillars of desirable butterflies; instead, grow extra parsley, dill, or fennel, to have more black swallowtails. Leave common milkweed in rough areas for monarch caterpillars.

Don’t panic if you have few apples or crabapples this year. We should have a large fruit set next year. Thinning the fruit then may reduce the tendency to biennial bearing that might result.

Black knot is a fungus that affects some plums and cherries. If you haven’t planted plums yet, seriously consider the hybrid plums that appear to be totally resistant. Most of these are products of plant breeding in the upper Midwest, so they are hardy to zones 3 or 4.

Ornamentals
It’s finally okay to remove daffodil and tulip foliage – removing it prematurely has a negative effect on flowering. This is also a good time to move the bulbs, or you can dig them up and dry them off, for planting in September.

Early July is a good time to move Colchicums. The dormant foliage should still allow you to find them. Try growing plumbago, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, as a fall-flowering groundcover with the Colchicum. The foliage will help support the Colchicum flowers and keep them out of the mud.

A good rainy day chore is sorting seed packets. Also, if you forced bulbs this past winter, you can take them out of the pots and store them dry and cool for the summer (except for delicate ones like snowdrops).

Leggy annuals may need to be pruned back to encourage new growth and more flowering. Some annuals don’t take hot weather and may need to be replaced.

Unruly perennials such as spiderwort can be cut back by two-thirds, and then watered. They will send up fresh new foliage. Deadhead some other perennials, like catmint, and salvia either for continued bloom, and improved foliage.  For more details, consult the excellent book by Tracy DiSabato-Aust: “The Well-Tended Perennial Garden.”

Bearded irises can be divided and replanted now. Get this done before Labor Day, to allow sufficient time for rerooting. If you want to order more, do so right away. Late-planted bearded irises may heave out of the ground and die in the winter, but if they have enough time to root, they are very winter-hardy. A tip from the Southern Tier Iris Society: put a brick on late-planted rhizomes to prevent heaving.

Continue to go on garden tours at private gardens and arboreta. Take your camera and notebook, because you are sure to get ideas for your own garden.

Mark colors of phlox or daylilies in case you want to propagate them for friends or Plant Sales.

Watch your viburnums for viburnum leaf beetle adults, especially if they were defoliated by the larvae. Consider a pesticide treatment to save the shrubs. Do not cut back branches just because the leaves have been eaten or damaged. Scratch the bark with your fingernail. If it’s green underneath, the branch is alive. Dormant buds under the bark just need time to develop into sprouts and leaves. If the leaf defoliation isn’t too bad, an organic control method is to snip off the twigs that contain the VLB eggs. Although the egg-laying sites are most obvious in the fall, one actually has until April to trim the affected twigs. See the VLB factsheet for details.

This is the last month to fertilize woody plants, without encouraging tender late growth that may not harden off in time for winter. It’s also the last month to prune woody plants—except for dead or diseased wood.

Spring-planted woody plants need to be watered every week unless there is an inch of rain. Ten to 15 gallons per plant is recommended. If you haven’t protected them from deer yet, start planning how to do it.

AUGUST
In the food garden:
This is the last month to plant these veggies if you are in zone 5: broccoli or cauliflower transplants, leaf lettuce, spinach, and turnip. Protect them from the scorching sun with rowcover or milk crates.

The easiest way to expand the veggie garden is to sheet compost now with flattened cardboard boxes. Overlap the edges and then cover them up with whatever you have – grass clippings, woodchips, spoiled hay, or bags of leaves. By spring, most of the weeds will be dead. This is also a good way to prepare the ground for shrub borders, berry plantings, or flowerbeds. You can also use thick newspapers, but they take longer to apply.

Harvest garlic when the leaves are yellowing. Then you can weed the area and plant a late crop (see above). It’s best to rotate where you grow garlic, so pick a new spot with lots of sun and good drainage. Maybe, sheet compost the new spot now, until planting time in mid-October.

Keep up the weeding, watering, and mulching, as needed. Try not to get leaves wet as that might spread disease. Keep a close watch for tomato/potato late blight.

Keep harvesting beans, basil, okra, cucumbers, summer squash, eggplant, etc., in order for plants to keep producing. It’s okay to leave some peppers on the plant to ripen and turn color.

Fall-bearing raspberries should start producing by mid or late August. If you have the variety ‘Heritage’ and have had problems with early fall frosts destroying part of the crop, plant an earlier-bearing variety, such as ‘Polana.’

Enjoy blueberries until Labor Day if you have planted the late-bearing variety ‘Elliott.’ Maybe you’ll have room to add it next spring, if you’ve not planted any!

Ornamentals:
Nursery stock goes on sale and may be a good money saver if it has been well cared for. Be sure to water weekly after planting if rain is insufficient. Keep the watering up until the ground freezes, unless rain is adequate.

The second half of August is a good time to start to move and/or divide some of the hardier perennials. Try to be done by the end of September.

It’s time to order bulbs for fall planting, to get the best selection of varieties. Lots of spring-blooming bulbs are deer-resistant. Avoid tulips and crocuses, and enjoy carefree alliums, winter aconite, snowdrops, snowflake, Siberian squill, glory-of-the-snow, Puschkinia, Fritillaria, and Anemone blanda. Grape hyacinths send up fall foliage, but even when it’s browsed, it doesn’t seem to affect their vigor.

Repot your houseplants to get them established before they need to be brought back inside.

Keep the lawn mowed at a three-inch height for the strongest root development and drought resistance. But if a drought drags on, allow the lawn to go dormant. It will revive on its own when rains resume.

Late August and early September is the best time to renovate the lawn or to seed a new one.

This is the time to start protecting tree trunks from ‘buck rub’ damage.

— Pat Curran and the Tompkins County Master Gardeners

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JULY

In the food garden:

Cut off those curly garlic scapes and use them for garlic pesto or stir-fries. Doing so will encourage larger garlic bulbs.

Protect your berries from the birds with bird netting. If some berries look moist or misshapen, check them for the maggots of the Spotted Wing Drosophila, a new fruit fly pest. Remove decaying fruit to help minimize your fruit fly populations. Also look out for another new pest, the marmorated stinkbug.

Keep your food plants weeded, watered, and mulched. Blueberry bushes are particularly sensitive to drought. A five-gallon bucket with tiny holes in the bottom, next to each bush, provides an easy way to water and measure how much water you’re applying (10 gallons each is good in drought situations, once or twice a week).

Keep tomato branches inside cages, and guide melon and squash vines.

This is the last month to plant these veggies for a fall crop if you are in zone 5: snap beans, peas, cukes, carrots, kohlrabi, summer squash, early sweet corn and green onions, among others. Zone 6 gardeners get a couple more weeks of growing season.

Time to renew or move the strawberry bed. Moving the plants allows a thorough weed removal, and then there’s still time to plant a succession crop (see above).

Keep the asparagus bed weeded.

To maximize basil harvest and prevent blooming, cut plants back by one-third, rather than just plucking leaves. This can probably be done 3 times, thus avoiding having to start new plants from seed. If you grow basil in containers, you can overwinter a few plants on a warm sunny windowsill (ditto for parsley, which can take your cooler windowsill).

Handpick conspicuous pests such as Japanese beetles, Colorado potato beetles, and so on. Look for the eggs of insect pests on the undersides of leaves. Use Bt on cabbage family plants, but judiciously. Remember it will also kill the caterpillars of desirable butterflies; instead, grow extra parsley, dill, or fennel, to have more black swallowtails. Leave common milkweed in rough areas for the monarch caterpillars.

Don’t panic if you have few apples or crabapples this year. Last year’s apple crop (2013) was enormous due to the hard frosts in the spring of 2012, that killed the flowers. Last year, the trees put most of their energy into fruit, rather than forming the flower buds for spring 2014. If weather permits in the spring of 2015, we should have another very large fruit set. Thinning the fruit next year may reduce the tendency to biennial bearing that might result.

Black knot is a fungus disease that affects some plums and cherries. Refer to the factsheet for control, but if you haven’t planted plums yet, seriously consider the hybrid plums that appear to be resistant. Most of these are the product of plant breeding in the upper Midwest, so they are hardy to zones 3 or 4.

Ornamentals:

It’s finally OK to remove narcissus foliage that seems to hang on forever – but removing it prematurely really does have a negative effect on flowering. This is also a good time to move the bulbs, or you can dig them up and dry them off, for planting in September.

Early July is a good time to move Colchicums. The dormant foliage should still allow you to find them. Try growing plumbago, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, as a fall-flowering groundcover with the Colchicum. The foliage will help support the Colchicum flowers and keep them out of the mud.

A good rainy day chore is sorting the seed packets. Also, if you forced bulbs this past winter, you can take them out of the pots and store them dry and cool for the summer (except for delicate ones like snowdrops).

Leggy annuals may need to be pruned back to encourage new growth and more flowering. Some annuals don’t take hot weather and may need to be replaced.

Continue to go on garden tours at private gardens and arboreta. Be sure to take your camera and notebook, because you are sure to get ideas for your own garden.

Invest in a rain gauge and keep track of your rain. This is not only helpful, but fun as well.

Watch your viburnums for viburnum leaf beetle adults, especially if the larvae defoliated them. Consider a pesticide treatment to save the shrubs. Do NOT cut back branches just because the leaves have been eaten or damaged. Scratch the bark with your fingernail. If it’s green underneath, the branch is alive. Dormant buds under the bark just need time to develop into sprouts and leaves. If the leaf defoliation isn’t too bad, an organic control method is to snip off the twigs that contain the VLB eggs. Although the egg-laying sites are most obvious in the fall, one actually has until April to trim the affected twigs. See the VLB factsheet for details.

This is the last month to fertilize woodies, without encouraging tender late growth that may not harden off in time for winter. It’s also the last month to prune woodies, for the same reason – except for dead or diseased wood, which can be pruned any time.

Mark colors of phlox or daylilies in case you want to propagate them for friends or Plant Sales.

Deadhead some perennials, either for continued bloom, or for improved foliage.   For more details, consult the excellent book by Tracy DiSabato-Aust: “The Well-Tended Perennial Garden.”

Bearded irises can be divided and replanted now. It’s best to get this done by Labor Day, to allow sufficient time for rerooting. If you want to order more, do so right away. Late-planted bearded irises may heave out of the ground and die in the winter, but if they have enough time to root, they are very winter-hardy. A tip from the Southern Tier Iris Society: put a brick on late-planted rhizomes to prevent heaving.

Spring-planted woodies need to be watered every week unless there is an inch of rain. Ten to 15 gallons per plant is recommended. If you haven’t protected them from deer yet, start planning how to do it.

AUGUST

In the food garden:

This is the last month to plant these veggies if you are in zone 5: early broccoli or cauliflower transplants, leaf lettuce, spinach, and turnip.

The easiest way to expand the veggie garden is to sheet compost now with flattened cardboard boxes. Overlap the edges and then cover them up with whatever you have – grass clippings, woodchips, spoiled hay, or bags of leaves. By spring, most of the weeds will be dead. This is also a good way to prepare the ground for shrub borders, berry plantings, or flowerbeds. You can also use thick newspapers, but they take longer to apply.

Harvest garlic when the leaves are yellowing. Next you can weed the area and plant a late crop (see above). It’s best to rotate where you grow garlic, so pick a new spot with lots of sun and good drainage. Maybe, sheet compost the new spot now (see above), until planting time in mid-October.

Keep up the weeding, watering, and mulching, as needed. Try not to get leaves wet as that might spread disease. Keep a close watch for tomato/potato late blight.

Keep harvesting beans, basil, okra, cukes, summer squash, eggplant, etc., in order for plants to keep producing. It’s OK to leave some peppers on the plant to ripen and turn color.

Fall-bearing raspberries should start producing by mid or late August. If you have the variety ‘Heritage’ and have had problems with early fall frosts destroying part of the crop, plant an earlier-bearing variety. ‘Polana’ has proven successful.

Enjoy blueberries until Labor Day if you have planted the late-bearing variety ‘Elliott.’ Maybe you have room to add it next spring!

Ornamentals:

Nursery stock goes on sale and may be a bargain if it has been well cared for. Be sure to water weekly after planting if rain is insufficient. Keep the watering up until the ground freezes, unless rain is adequate.

The second half of August is a good time to start to move and/or divide some of the hardier perennials. Try to be all done by the end of September.

Order bulbs now for fall planting, to get the best selection of varieties. Lots of spring-blooming bulbs are deer-resistant. Avoid tulips and crocus, and enjoy carefree alliums, winter aconite, snowdrops, snowflake, Siberian squill, glory-of-the-snow, Puschkinia, Fritillaria, and Anemone blanda. Grape hyacinths send up fall foliage, but even when it’s browsed, it doesn’t seem to affect their vigor.

Repot your houseplants to get them established before they need to be brought back inside.

Keep the lawn mowed at a 3-inch height for the strongest root development and drought resistance. But if a drought drags on, allow the lawn to go dormant. It will revive on its own when rains resume.

Late August and early September is the best time to renovate the lawn or to seed a new one.

This is the time to start protecting tree trunks from ‘buck rub’ damage.

—Pat Curran and the Tompkins County Master Gardeners

{ 0 comments }

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