Micro-Gardening Goes Big
If you are seeking balance in your life and diet try a small area grow some of your own food. Micro-gardens are a great tool for people to eat a better diet and provide additional income. It may surprise you, but in a 3 square foot area you can harvest as many as 200 tomatoes, 36 heads of lettuce or 10 heads of cabbage. Its roots are in victory gardens, the square foot gardening system created in the 1980's. Urban farming is in vogue now and rightfully so. Get together with friends and get started this spring and share what you grow!
Try repurposing shipping pallets to create vertical gardens, beds, cold frames and planters. Just make sure to get heat treated pallets and not the chemically treated ones. Urban rooftops are ideal for gardening and it's easy to rig up a system for collecting rainwater for your garden. Any sunny area will work a balcony, on the front steps, a deck or on the ground.
This is a great way to get green, reduce, reuse, recycle and enjoy.
March Gardening Tips
House plants can look a little pouty this time of year from the short days and low humidity in winter. continue to mist leaves with water daily and move them to a bright spot to recover. Continue to monitor for insects and treat every two weeks following the label directions. Begin to increase water and fertilizer this month as plants begin the spring - summer growth season.
Seed starting indoors:
Most garden vegetable seeds should be started by mid month; they cannot be planted outside until late April of early May. Make sure you have a strong light source so the seedlings don’t stretch and become fragile after germination. It helps to place them outside on warm days but be careful to move them back in at night. Be careful with watering until the seedlings develop good root systems - too much water can be a problem. Cool season seeds can be direct sown outside towards the end of the month. Do not work in your beds if the soil is wet.
Early March is the time to begin spraying dormant fruit trees to prevent problems with pests and diseases later in the season. Wait until we have had 2 days over 40 degrees to begin spraying. You can use Organocide, neem oil or a formulated fruit tree spay. Be sure to thoroughly coat the branches and buds with spray. Do this on warm days over 40 degrees so the spray remains in solution. If weather gets in the way you can keep your mix warm by keeping it inside over night. If fire blight was a problem last spring begin applying a preventative containing copper now until the flowers open. Over fertilization and hard pruning will make your tree more susceptible to this bacterial disease.
Trees and Shrubs:
March is the time to plant a new tree or shrub – they will not be bothered by the cold and abundant spring rains will lead to quick establishment. Use Espoma Bio-tone for best results. Maintain a 2-3 inch layer of organic mulch around plants. Mulch conserves moisture, controls erosion, prevents weeds and provides nutrients.
Early March is a great time to prune trees and shrubs that flower in summer or fall. It is easy to see what you’re doing before the trees leaf out. Remove any crossed or damaged branches, and dead or diseased wood. Prune out black knot fungus from cherries and plums wipe your pruners between cuts with rubbing alcohol or a 10% bleach solution. Defer pruning of spring flowering trees and shrubs until they have bloomed.
Mid March is the time to prune roses. They can be cut back by as much as 2/3. Remove any dead canes and open the plant up for better air circulation. Make your pruning cuts at a 45 degree angles you can apply TreeKote sealer to prevent bores.
Press any frost heaved plants back into the soil. Remove mulch and leaves from perennial clumps as the soil warms. Cut back any ornamental grasses or other plants stems that were left for winter interest. Prune back autumn flowering clematis to 12 inches. Prune back last year’s leaves on Hellebores. Feed clematis with Espoma Tomato-tone now it is rich in calcium and minerals and it keeps the pH in the proper range.
If you did not seed last fall you may choose to do a spring seeding towards the end of the month. Delay seeding if we have abnormally cold weather. You can apply lime and fertilizer with the appropriate grass seed for your sun exposure at the same time. Follow label directions and do not over apply lawn products. Top dress with compost and water the area lightly twice a day. Do not apply corn gluten or other pre- emergent if you are putting down seed. Apply corn gluten to lawns seeded last fall when the redbuds bloom.
Salt Damage Winter Burn
Wow what a winter we have had. It would seem that we have had an abnormally cold winter and we have anecdotally. It has still has been a zone 7 winter! It’s just the coldest one in about 17years. We did not set any all time records for low temperatures.
All over town I’m seeing some winter burn – the browning of leaves due to cold and wind. Plants in containers or plants already stressed going into the cold weather have been the most affected.
Winter Burn occurs mostly on broadleaved evergreens as those leaves have a lot of surface area as compared to the needled evergreens. That’s not to say needled evergreens can’t get winter burn, but what I’m seeing on this group is winter coloration or bronzing and these plants will green back up in spring. Broad leaved evergreens will lose the damaged leaves and should leaf back out as time permits. These plants will leaf out on their normal cycle and may look tatty quite a while. Plants that we well established and thriving we be the least impacted.
Local municipalities used a lot of deicer in January so much so in fact that trees along major roads were covered with white calcium carbonate residue that I hope will wash off in the coming rains. Deicer products dry out the leaf tissue. If you have a hedge near the road you may see some salt damage. A lot of needled evergreens can be damaged by salt spray. ‘Manhattan’ euonymus is especially sensitive to salt spray and was beginning to defoliate in late January. Spring rains will take care of the excess salt left from this winter.
Good and Cold
Even though we set daily records (not all time records) for cold temperatures a few days ago they were normal lows for zone 7 winters. The reason it seemed so bitter is that we have not been that cold in almost 20 years and the fierce winds did not help.
The good news is the cold snap was beneficial for the health of our forests. Two major exotic invasive insects have been destroying millions of trees in the upper Midwest and in the Appalachian Mountains and the Piedmont. They are the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) and the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA) respectively - and extreme cold is their worst enemy. Nationwide entomologists are jumping for joy. The EAB has destroyed 20 million ash trees since its introduction to the U.S. in 2002. That’s a lot of trees in 12 years! It is no longer recommended they be planted because of this insect. State and municipalities do not have the budget to control this insect. Baltimore city has 300,000 ash trees and there are 50,000 in DC, to treat each tree would cost a fortune. It was not cold enough in our area to kill the EAB but it was in many areas of the country. There is 100% kill at minus 32 and it was that cold in the upper Midwest and Canada! http://www.emeraldashborer.info/files/MultiState_EABpos.pdf
The HWA was introduced to the states in 1924 and as of 2007 50% of Hemlocks were infested from Massachusetts to Georgia. This pest has devastated areas of the Smokey Mountains where Hemlocks were a dominant tree species. HWA has killed 90% of the Hemlocks in the Shenandoah National Park. It has also recently spread to the mountains of western Maryland. The really good news is that they are 100% killed at minus 5 degrees and it was that cold in many mountainous areas. I have a special fondness of this tree and as with the Ash it is no longer recommended they be planted. http://www.fws.gov/asheville/pdfs/Hemlock%20Woolly%20Adelgid.pdf
If you have an Ash or on your property they can be treated with a systemic insecticide that contain the active ingredient dinotefuran applied after flowering. On Hemlock you can use a systemic containing imidaclopid or dinotefuran.
In our gardens there will be some winter burn on tender broadleaved evergreens that were struggling or sited in windy areas. Most likely they will recover in spring!
Nursery Manager/Horticultural Specialist
Houseplants and Tropicals:
It is time to bring your tender houseplants inside. Make sure to treat them for insects and spider mites before bringing inside. Espoma Earth-tone Insect Control is very effective. Spray the upper and lower leaf surface and small twigs twice 10 days apart you may make your second application inside.
Summer tropical bulbs and tubers like cannas, bananas and dahlias can cut back and moved inside after the first frost. Wash them well and allow them to dry for several days before you pack them up for winter storage.
Fall and winter blooming orchids should be producing flower spikes now. Use a bamboo stake and clips or twine to train the spike to grow straight.
Continue with fall lawn renovation, over-seeding, and fertilizing. You should complete these tasks by the third week of October. This allows the seed to germinate and root before the leaves fall.
Apply lime and Milky Spore now.
After harvest the vegetable garden should be cleaned up and the soil turned or tilled. If you are creating a new vegetable bed fall is a great time. The soil you turn over will be much easier to work next spring due to freeze thaw cycles. This also has a more positive impact on soil beneficial fungi and bacteria.
Remember to rotate your crops next year to minimize pest problems you may have had this summer.
Annuals and Perennials:
Plant pansies now and enjoy them through next spring. Treat them with repellants if deer and rabbits are a concern and remember to fertilize.
Ornamental cabbage and kale can be planted later this month as well.
It’s time to plant most bulbs delay tulip planting until November. Use oyster shells or Espoma Soil- Perfector added to the planting hole to keep rodents away.
Cut back perennials as the foliage withers. Ornamental grasses can be cut back later in winter.
Trees and Shrubs:
If deer are a concern in your area now is the time to protect young trees from rutting bucks. Bucks mark their territory by rubbing their scent glands on trees and in doing so their antlers severely damage the trunks and can ruin trees. Use three hardwood stakes placed close to the trunk as a barricade. The stakes can be removed in January.
Many evergreen plants loose a portion of their older leaves or needles this time of year so don’t be alarmed. Azaleas, Japanese hollies, rhododendrons, false cypress, pines and euonymus are the most noticeable. Just late nature take its course.
It is time to fertilize your trees and shrubs with an organic fertilizer. This will stimulate root growth and give the plant better winter hardiness.
Continue to water regularly if its dry until the trees looses their leaves.
Delay fall mulching of beds until we have had a few nights of freezing temperatures. Mulching earlier keeps the soil too warm and plants may not harden off well.
Delay significant pruning of trees and shrubs until late winter.
Bulbs have always been popular garden plants. They are the harbingers of spring, are easy to plant and uniquely rewarding. But they are not just for spring -- there are summer bulbs like gladiolas and dahlias, fall crocus, and indeed bulbs like amaryllis and forced spring bulbs that are very popular for winter cheer.
I will not focus on tulips and daffodils, though they are great plants in both color and form and are deservedly popular. What I would like to share with you today are some observations I have made over the years on some underutilized bulbs and how to combine them with other plants for successful gardening.
Minor bulbs and friends:
Minor bulbs are called minor because they are not well known, and as a result less common. This does not mean they are difficult of culture or are less rewarding, they are just not a popular as daffodils or tulips.
Eranthis hyemalis, or winter aconite, is a late winter bloomer often poking its yellow flowers through melting snow on sunny days in January or February some years. They perform well under trees as they can complete their growth early before the trees leaf out. It is often combined with Galanthus, the snowdrops, which bloom with them. This combination looks smashing under witch hazels and truly warms the heart on winter forays in the garden.
Galanthis, or snowdrops, are more widely grown and with good reason. They bloom early under the tree canopy and are show stoppers. Invite your friends over for a snowdrop party when they are at peak. They grow equally well in a sunny exposure and will increase on their own, forming large colonies that bloom for a month each winter. Galanthis nivalis is very showy and the easiest to grow.
Anemone blanda is another rewarding minor bulb. Blooming in blue, white or pink these plants have attractive foliage as well. They prefer good drainage and a hummus rich soil. Try planting amongst ferns as the fronds unfurl. They will complement and then cover the foliage, which goes dormant in late spring. They perform well in bright shade to sun. They also look great as potted plants to be placed in the garden after blooming. Try combining with Ipheion uniflorum, candytuft or violas.
Scillia sibernica, or Siberian squill, is a favorite of mine. It is great for naturalizing and looks best planted in large drifts and is easy to grow. The nodding blue flowers look great under spring flowering magnolias. It also works well with Aurinia saxatalis on a sunny slope. Scillia will tolerate a lot of sun if not allowed to dry out completely.
Iris reticulata is an early blooming diminutive gem that combines well with spring Crocus. ‘Purple Gem’ is a really nice variety.
Crocus tommasianus is gorgeous and is not eaten by squirrels!
Here is a recipe for a low maintenance long season combination for you to try. You will need about a half a day of sun.
Compose a bed of Eranthis, Galanthis, Iris reticulata and Crocus with the long blooming perennial Ceratostigma plumbaganoides or Plumbago. The bulbs will give you an extended show in winter and spring. The Plumbago will grow on to cover the spent foliage and delight you with blue flowers in summer and red fall color.
Three for early fall planting:
Cycalmen coum is really a neat plant in flower and foliage and will not disappoint. It also thrives in the shade of large trees and will spread nicely, by seed, if happy. Interestingly, ants spread the seed. Though one can plant it from dormant corms available in fall, you may have better luck if purchased as potted plants. In addition to lovely flowers, the foliage has silver overlays. It will bloom in late fall through early winter. These treasures go summer dormant and like to be dry that time of year. Try facing down a yew hedge or combining with rhododendrons. Colchicum, or fall Crocus, is a winner and is resistant to deer and rabbit feeding. It does best in sun. One often sees photos of colchicums blooming in turf grass in European gardens. This is rather difficult here, with our vigorous overfed tall fescue lawns. You will need to delay spring mowing to let the foliage mature. Try it in the thinner grass of shaded areas or around the base of trees.
Spring Crocus should also be planted earlier than other bulbs in early September. The problem with spring crocus is that rodents find them delectable. Simply planting them incased in wire mesh solves the problem and makes them less prone to being disturbed when planting near them in the future. Crocus t., as mentioned, above is not eaten. Crocus come in a variety of colors and sizes and will spread if welcome. All crocuses perform beast in well-drained soils. They are also great for forcing and will last longer if kept cool indoors.
Alliums and Dahlias:
Most great pairings are random. Alliums combined with ball dahlias just works. The form of the round flowers repeated from spring until frost adds continuity and color without much bother. Alliums are a love of mine and I have grown all of the worthy ones and will always consider them great perennials. The flowers have such amazing texture and color, floating on thin stems and most dry extremely well. They are also commonly available as potted plants, as well as, bulbs.
Dahlias are also a love of mine. They are easy to grow and flower prolifically till frost. Dahlias come in a variety of flower shapes but I like the ball dahlias and once grew every worthy one, just like the alliums, and randomly they made the best border I ever made.
Alliums require only sun and good drainage like dahlias and are not bothered by much other that wet soils. Alliums are garden plants and dahlias are tender bulbs (tubers). So dahlias must be lifted and stored in a cool dry place after frost has blackened the foliage. Not a hard thing to do at all -- some cedar shavings and cardboard boxes are all you need. Check monthly and don’t keep too them wet or dry. If they rot just buy new ones.
September Gardening Tips
Houseplants and outdoor tropicals:
When night temperatures reach 55 and below its time to bring tender plants indoors.
Make sure to bring plants in clean and insect free.
Examine plants for spider mites, scale and mealy bugs. Spray them twice 10 days apart with neem oil before you bring them in.
Discard plants that have lost vigor, they will not do any better indoors.
Expect to see some leaf drop as these plants adjust to indoor conditions.
Water less frequently and feed sparingly until the plants have acclimatized.
White or tan crust on the top of the soil indicates salt build up from fertilizer.
Repot plants into fresh potting soil and remember to flush out the containers with water every few weeks.
Fertilize your lawn now with an organic lawn fertilizer.
It is also time to aerate or dethatch, seed and lime.
Ask our lawn care experts about the best practices and products.
Fall is the best time to apply lime although you may do it in spring and summer as well.
Milky Spore for grub control is also best applied in fall.
You may continue to plant spinach and radish seeds for fall harvests.
Plant vegetable starts of cool season vegetables now.
Plant garlic now for harvest next summer.
Harvest carrots now before they get woody.
Harvest onions when the tops fall over. Allow them to cure for a few days. Store them in baskets or mesh bags.
Figs are ripe when they change color and begin to droop on the stem.
Annuals and Perennials:
Plant crocus, cyclamen and colchicum bulbs now.
Daffodils can be planted at the end of the month if we have had normal temperatures.
Plant tulips and Dutch iris in November.
Divide and transplant lily of the valley now, replanting them just below the surface about 3 inches apart.
Remove spent summer annuals and replace with pansies, cabbage and kale.
Pansies planted now will still be blooming next spring!
Trees and shrubs:
Do not fertilize trees and shrubs now-wait until late October.
Do not prune trees and shrubs until late winter or early spring.
Water trees and shrubs once a week if we get no rain.
Keeping plants hydrated this time of year greatly improves hardiness and vigor.
Now is a great time to plant a new tree or shrub with our long growing season. There is still plenty of time for establishment before winter.
Summer Gardening Tips
Keep your indoor plants away from air-conditioning ducts or window units. The constant cold drafts are hard on plants especially Scheffleras.
Do not overwater plants kept inside.
Use a natural water holding gel such as DRiWater if you will be away from home.
Continue to fertilize houseplants following label instructions.
Outdoor Tropical plants and Annuals in containers:
Continue to feed with a combination of water-soluble and time-release fertilizers.
If you will be out of town relocate containers to a shady area and group together to conserve moisture. Drip irrigation systems work nicely as well.
Use natural water holding gel products such as DRiwater to help them through the extreme heat.
Do not mow grass if the temperatures are above 90 degrees.
Apply compost tea to help with heat and moisture stress.
Continue to mow at 3 inches this will suppress weeds and keep lawns greener.
Remove stubborn weeds by hand and replace with sod. Apply Weed-Be-Gone following label directions as a selective herbicide.
Lawns require 1” of rain per week to stay green. Please water accordingly.
Have us check your pH now for fall liming and fertilizing in September.
Maintain even moisture in the vegetable garden. Ripening tomatoes do not like swings in moisture and will split. This will increase your harvest of other veggies as well.
Continue to apply organic fertilizer such as Plant-Tone for better crops and vigor.
Apply Serenade for powdery mildew control on cucumbers squash and melons.
Remove old fruiting canes from June bearing raspberries at ground level.
Cut back new canes of blackberries and raspberries to 3 feet.
Place straw or newspaper as mulch under your melons and pumpkins to reduce decay.
Protect ripening grape bunches with paper bags until harvest.
Remove flowers from annual herbs like basil for a better yield.
Fertilize figs towards the end of the month.
Annuals and Perennials:
Continue to dead head spent flowers for continued blooming.
Stop pinching Mums by mid-month.
Continue to feed bedding annuals monthly.
Cut summer annuals, perennials and herbs for drying late in the month. Strip off the leaves and hang bunches upside down, a screened porch or garage work well for this.
Trees and Shrubs:
Remove suckers from trees especially from below the graft if present. This will keep you trees vigorous and healthy.
Control powdery mildew on trees and shrubs through out summer with Serenade.
Head back wild and irregular growth on holly trees, but do not remove the leader.
Prune now for height reduction on overgrown shrubs.
Continue to provide deep watering at 7 to 10 day intervals on new trees and shrubs.
Continue to fertilize roses monthly with Rose-Tone and water weekly.
Citrus time again!
Citrus never really goes out of style, George Washington had an orangery at Mount Vernon and had been popular for thousands of years before his time. They have a lot to recommend them; fragrant flowers, colorful and delicious fruit, attractive evergreen foliage and are packed with vitamin C and other nutrients. Citrus makes a great container subject in our climate going outside in May and inside when temperatures dip into the 40’s in October. I have had a ‘Meyer Improved’ lemon for 17 years and it still looks good and produces plenty of fruit.
Citrus is easy enough to take care of requiring only good sun, careful watering, and proper fertilizing. The most important thing to keep in mind is not to overwater! One major reason plants get too much moisture is over-potting i.e. using too large of a pot! Soggy conditions several inches below can go undetected. When you repot choose a new container that is only an inch or two larger. If you need to use a large pot for aesthetic reasons simply nest your container in the larger one and water the smaller container that will keep the roots from drowning. A mature citrus can live in a 5 gallon sized pot for many years and my 17-year-old lemon is doing great in a 10-gallon pot. I re-pot every three years and do very minor root pruning each time. You will want to give plenty of water during its time outside, keep them on the dry side when overwintering indoors.
These plants are heavy feeders during the growing season. Select a fertilizer labeled for citrus or chose one with a good amount of nitrogen with micronutrients. I use a combination of Osmocote applied in May and Neptune’s Harvest fish and seaweed fertilizer for its high mineral and amino acid content monthly. If your plants leaves are yellowing it could be a sign of overwatering, lack of nutrients, or cold damage. Light colored new growth is normal on Seville oranges and a few others. Fertilize lightly until March when overwintering.
In autumn before your trees migrate back inside it is important to spray the plants with a product that is effective on spider mites. Some common insecticides actually increase mite populations by killing beneficial insects and stimulating mite growth. I like to use neem oil based products, make sure you coat both sides of the leaves and small branches when applying. Neem oil is also effective on scale insects, which are the other common pest you need to consider.
Citrus will appreciate the brightest indoor spot you have and remember to mist the leaves daily with water to make up for the low humidity most homes have in winter.
Many unusual citrus are in vogue now, used by inspired chefs and trendy mixologists. I have always enjoyed these useful and rewarding plants.