Salt Alternatives

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Winter salt damage to lawn

When winter comes, it’s important to keep walkways safe, but the chemical compounds sold for de-icing all contain some form of salt, which you don’t want leaching into your soil. Although calcium nitrate or high-nitrogen fertilizer is often recommended as a more benign alternative, an overdose of nitrates isn’t really any better than a buildup of salt itself. In either case, soil organisms are damaged, plant roots can be burned, and leached-out excess winds up in the groundwater.

So what do you do? Start with prevention. There will be very little ice to worry about if you are careful to keep the walkway well shoveled in the first place. Remove snow right down to the path surface as soon as it falls (walking on snow compacts it and makes it stick). Pile the snow on the downhill side, so it doesn’t flow over the walkway when it melts.

Next, cover any ice you do get with something that will provide traction. Clay cat litter and coarse sand both work well and won’t be much of an indoor problem if you keep a mat or bootbrush by your door.

Alternatively, you can add traction to the walkway by covering it with temporary “paving” that has a nonslip surface. There are specially designed flexible metal grids sold for this purpose at hardware stores and through specialty catalogs. Or you can use panels of asphalt roofing shingles. They cost less and work just as well, although they are less than lovely (sprinkle sand under the shingles so they don’t slip around).

Living Christmas Trees

by Outagamie County Master Gardener Terry Tess

real-potted-christmas-trees-sydneyEach year many people choose to bring a living tree into the home for Christmas. Smaller potted and even some balled and burlapped evergreens make great candidates for a living Christmas tree. Living Christmas trees should only stay in the home for 2-3 weeks and prefer cool room temperatures. They should be “eased in” to the home by holding them in an enclosed porch or garage until ready to be set up in the house and then “eased out” in the same manner when finished. Lighting the tree with cool LED lights is also a big help. Treating the tree with an anti-desiccant spray such as Wilt-Stop will also slow down moisture loss. Water the tree every day as it can never be allowed to dry out. Once the decorations are removed, plan on planting the tree immediately. This means that you need to plan ahead and prepare a planting hole now to receive the tree in January.

7c4cca738d67b1976b24744bf6c62e3aChoose a proper location in your yard to be the final home for your Christmas tree. Take into consideration the ultimate size of the tree as well as its soil and light requirements. Dig the hold before the ground freezes. The size of the hold should be as deep as the root ball and 2-3 times as wide. Amend the soil with leaf compost and store the soil in a location where it will not freeze and be easy to access in January. Now fill the hole with straw to slow down the frost. At planting time remove the straw from the hole and install the tree using the saved soil. Water the plant heavily and mulch around the tree using the same straw that once filled the hole. Plan on watering the tree again in early spring once the soil has thawed.

What a great holiday tradition to begin this year and to remember for many years to come as the trees grow and flourish!

Terry is a Design Build Manager/Horticulturist/Registered Landscape Architect for the Vande Hey Company in Little Chute, Wisconsin.

Planning for next year

When growing season is done and the garden has been put to bed, it’s time to start planning for next year! I love tea and drink it the way many other people drink coffee. I have an area in my flower garden devoted to herbs, and I’m thinking about adding something new:  tea.

downloadTrue tea (white, black and green) comes from one plant species: Camellia sinensis, hardy in Zones 6 to 9. This plant isn’t finicky (slightly acidic soil, a sunny location and plenty of water will keep it happy), but it grows slowly from seed. It can take three years to get a harvest and cuttings are challenging, so purchasing a plant seems like the right approach. Like me, you may already have herbs in your garden, such as mint and lemongrass, that you can use for tisanes, or herbal teas.

When using herbs for tea, it’s important to research which part of the plant is used for making tea, such as the leaves of the mint plant, the buds and flowers of chamomile or the outer stalks of lemongrass. Freshly picked herbs can be brewed right away. You can also dry herbs to keep the cupboard stocked.

Herbal tea

imagesThis hot beverage is not actually tea (not being made from the Camellia sinensis plant, but from herbs), but is called tea and is wildly popular. Some of the possible plants to use:

  • Bee balm
  • Bergamot
  • Lavender
  • Lemon Verbena
  • Raspberry
  • Rose Hip
  • Sage
  • Strawberry
  • Yarrow

Gently tear or crush herbal leaves, buds or roots to release essential oils and boost flavor, and you might consider a tea infuser or ball instead of a strainer for a simpler brewing process to avoid having a cup full of leaves.

Orchid Cactus

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tom Wentzel

untitledI started this plant from a leaf cutting 8+ years ago. It loves the indoor south exposure where it has been since I got it. I really don’t pay much attention to it. It is a vining plant and needs support. When I gets to be 10 or 12 feet long, I hack it back. It is a plant the makes a very bold statement via its foliage. This leaf is 22 inches long.I had pretty much given up on seeing it bloom until a couple days ago – then I noticed the flower buds.

untitledThese were quite a surprise and I was hoping that they would be open the following day. That night I thought I would take another peak at them. WOW!

Even the internal structure is extraordinary.
After seeing the flower, I was able to determine that the variety is most likely “Queen of the Night”. That certainly is an appropriate name. The flowers last only one night. Looking more closely at the plant, I found four other spent blossoms that I had missed. There are two more buds developing. This plant is well worth having in your collection just for the foliage. The flowers put it over the top. It is very easy to grow.

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Other members of this family bloom during the day with individual flowers lasting a week or so. Colors tend to be in the red/pink end of the spectrum and the plants can be quite a bit smaller, lending themselves to hanging baskets.

More trouble for our trees?

by Mary Learman, OCMGA Master Gardener

Did you lose trees to Dutch Elm Disease? How about the Emerald Ash Borer? What we don’t need is another disease that wipes out our trees — especially in the Urban Forest where a very high percentage of the trees planted in most cities may be some form of Maple.

wpr-meiller-weather-plantdiseases-tarspotIf you noticed black spots on the leaves of your Maple this year, you’re not alone. Fortunately, although the black spots are unsightly, they’re probably not a harbinger of yet another disaster-in-the-making for our tree population. However, it is something you should address!

For more information about caring for your Maples, follow this link and read the article by Jill Nadeau of Wisconsin Public Radio.

 

Plant now for a long Tulip season

Tulip lovers stretch the season by planting lots of different species and cultivars. Though each only blooms for a short time, the tulip parade can last two full months if you plan it carefully.

Tulipa fosteriana 'Purissima'

Tulipa fosteriana ‘Purissima’

Early: The first tulips are low to the ground, including the wide-leafed Kaufmannianas, sometimes called water-lily tulips because of the shape of the flowers, and Gregii’s, known for their mottled leaves. Soon after them come Emperor, aka Fosteriana, tulips, the earliest of the long-stemmed types; Single Early, which is usually slightly taller than Emporor; and Double Early, ditto.

Mid Season: Once the days lengthen and weather warms up, you’ll get Triumphs, first of the truly long-stemmed florist’s types, which come in a wider range of colors than the early birds. Also Peony-flowered tulips, known for their lush doubleness; and Giant Darwin, the florist’s tulip on steroids.

Viridiflora tulipan (Viridiflora tulip)

Viridiflora tulipan (Viridiflora tulip)

Late: This is the season for Darwin tulips, also known as Single Late, the classic tall-stemmed cups of color that first come to mind when you hear the word tulip. It’s also the time for exotica: huge Parrot tulips, with their twisted and ruffled petals; urn-shaped Lily-flowered tulips; Viridifloras, with flames of green rising up the outside of the brightly colored flowers; and Fringed tulips, sometimes listed as Tulipa crispa, their petal edges frilled with narrow teeth that glow when the light shines through.

Species: There are dozens of species tulips available, primarily through mail order. Smaller and more delicate than garden tulips, they are mostly mid-season bloomers, with a few earlies, such as the tiny white T. biflora, and a few members of the late show, such as the bright red T. wilsoniana (T. montana). The available array keeps growing, so it is best to buy from a purveyor who is clear about blooming time in the catalog.

Shearing is not Pruning

This time of year, we’re preparing for winter and many folks are doing some Fall pruning. Do you say you’re grabbing your shears

Ficus benjamina (formally sheared)

Ficus benjamina (formally sheared)

or your pruners? There is a difference between pruning and shearing.

Pruning means cutting off a part of a living plant, and covers everything from snipping a twig to reaching deep inside a tree canopy and sawing off a major branch. Shearing is a particular kind of pruning, one in which only branch tips are cut, and they are cut as a group rather than individually.

The goal of shearing is to force lots of small outer branches while creating a smooth outline. The result — if it is successful — is that the sheared plant loses it’s natural identity and becomes a formal shape.

Creating a box hedge topiary by hand

Creating a box hedge topiary by hand

The most common example of the technique is the flat-faced wall of a sheared hedge, but people also shear plants into mounds, pyramids, graduated balls on sticks, or (in a few extreme cases) things like chess pieces and leaping dogs.

Shearing at the simple hedge level seems as thought it should be easy; just hold the shears at the proper angle and clip away. In fact, it takes patience, practice — and strong arms — to see where you need to cut and then do the cutting properly.

Electric hedge trimmers promise to relieve you of much of the work, and they do make it go faster. But they are heavier than hand shears, their speed increases the chance of mistakes, and they have a regrettable tendency to tear everything they touch instead of cutting cleanly.