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Voles

by Vijai Pandian, UW-Extension

The meadow vole can nest in a variety of habitats.

vole JCFreezing nights and shortening daylight in the fall tranquilizes the landscape — not counting the insatiable meadow vole that remains active throughout the year. The vole, also called a meadow mouse, is a ground dwelling rodent with a chunky grayish brown appearance, tiny ears and short tail.

Commencing in late fall and continuing through winter into early spring, voles cause a variety of damage to landscapes. Runways and seemingly endless tunnels in lawns, shaved tree bark and roots, and the mysterious disappearance of flowering bulbs and tubers in spring are classic blueprints of vole damage. Under snow cover, voles can venture safely to any part of the landscape, and quite often homeowners do not notice the damage until the spring melt.

Vole DamageMowing and cleaning up the yard can limit destruction and being vigilant and taking proactive steps in the fall is the key to controlling voles.

Ponds, stream banks, orchards, old fields, fence rows, pastures, hay fields, grassy weeds and ground covers are ideal habitats for voles. Backyard logs, undisturbed compost piles, tall ornamental grasses, bushy evergreen shrubs and debris in the urban landscape can also provide a nesting place for voles.

Trapping or any other control strategies when the snow is on the ground has proven ineffective. Here are a series of tips for managing this pest.

The landscape should be scouted in fall for voles. Sightings of fresh grass clippings, tunnels, droppings around large grasses, nests, and chewed fruits are telltale signs of their abundance in the landscape.

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Putting Your Garden to Bed

by OCMGA Master Gardener Holly Boettcher

garden-waste-1047259_960_720After a long summer of enjoying your garden, it is time to put it to bed for the winter. This task may not be as joyous as the excitement that you experienced in the spring, but believe me, if you properly tuck them in, your springtime gardening will be a much easier transition if you follow these easy tips.

Vegetable Garden

Carrots, potatoes, & beets can be left in the ground and then harvested in early winter. You may want to mark them with a stake so you can find them. Pull all plants such as tomatoes, peas, beans, and squash, and add them to the compost bin. Do the same with weeds. Take extra steps to eliminate disease by either burning or bagging anything suspicious and disposing of properly. By lightly turning over the soil, you will help to eliminate a lot of pests that would overwinter in your soil.

A Good Time for Soil Test

Why not take a soil sample to your nearby county extension office or coop? This is a great time to learn if your soil needs to be amended. As a last step, either add compost such as leaves or well-rotted manure, or consider a cover crop of winter rye which will add nutrients to your garden.

Rosesimage_1_large

This is the time of year to discontinue fertilizing your rose bushes. They no longer need to be fed in order to encourage blooming. It is time for them to go to sleep for the winter. Do prune back any damaged or dead canes. Mulch generously just above swollen area (sometimes referred to as the onion.) Protect your rose bushes from rabbits and voles by using a type of lightweight wire fencing which you can find at a garden center.

Perennials

After the first frost, your hosta plants will shrivel and be easy to clean up. Wear some waterproof garden gloves because they will feel a bit smarmy. And the stalks of day lilies should be removed although you can keep up with this during the summer too. Once the lily plants go dormant, they can be cut back to about 4 inches.

Trees

Don’t forget to wrap the trunks of young trees to protect them from rabbits and other nibblers.

Give Them a Drink

Be sure to water generously. My gramma always said it is good for the plants to go to bed with their feet wet!

55d70e9ac4dd4d4eb3843097d66bcaa0--winter-plants-winter-gardenNot Everyone is Ready for a Winter Nap           

My preference is to leave coneflowers, aster, goldenrod, and ornamental grasses over the winter so the goldfinches and other birds can feast on the seeds.   An added bonus is by not cutting back your grasses as well as shrubs such as hydrangea, you will smile as they peak through the glistening snow adding a splash of winter interest!

Lucy’s Corner (volume 2)

by OCMGA Master Gardener Lucy Valitchka

In June 2016, we posted a blog from our veggie expert Lucy Valitchka with helpful tips for growing a successful garden. The tips were arranged by month and covered the summer period of June into early August. Now, we’re pleased to be able to present a fall edition to help you put your garden to bed.

darzoves-67558444Autumn in the garden has its own special needs and is as important a time as the busy springtime. For those who planted their garden later, like this writer, there will still be vegetables or fruits to harvest. Here are some guidelines that might be helpful to all. These ideas came from experience, garden columns, Wisconsin Garden Journal Calendar and other sources.

September

  • If not done already, be sure to remove any flowers from melons, squash, pumpkins as they will not reach maturity before frost.
  • Remove flowers from tomatoes after September 1st.
  • Week 4 of September pinch out the growing points at the top of Brussels sprouts stems so bottom sprouts will reach maturity.
  • When onion tops fall over and brown, they are ready to harvest. Dig them and let dry in the sun for a day. Then store on newspaper for a couple weeks in a dry place. After that, remove dried tops and store in mesh bags in a cool, dark, dry place. I hang our onion bags on hooks in our fruit cellar.
  • Herbs should be ready to harvest. I spray the herbs with water to remove any dust, then let dry on layers of newspaper on our basement table. I put a marker by each pile of herbs, so I know the variety. When herbs are completely dry I remove stems and place herbs in small labeled jars.
  • Gather any vegetables or fruits early or late in the day, provided plants aren’t wet.
  • Refrigerate or process as soon as possible. Quality of vegetable or fruits is highest at picking time.
  • Harvest pears when still light green. Separate fruit from branch with slight twisting motion.

October

  • Gather squash, pumpkins and gourds when ripe and before damaged by frost. Leave a 2-inch stem on vegetable for better storage.
  • Harvest late vegetables or fruits. This is a time for apple harvest for us and cider processing at a mill near Elkhart Lake.
  • Rake up apple leaves and fallen fruit to control disease and insect problems next year.
  • Remove all weeds from garden before they go to seed.
  • Grapes should be ready for jelly or maybe a delicious grape pie!
  • Late tomatoes make great salsa.
  • Frosts can come at the end of September or early October. Watch the weather and be sure to harvest all tender crops like beans, tomatoes, peppers etc. before you lose them to frost.
  • Crops such as kale, spinach and Brussels sprouts will actually taste better because of a light frost.
  • Plant garlic in rich, well-drained soil 5 inches apart and 1 to 2 inches deep. Select larger cloves for large bulbs. Break bulbs apart into individual cloves. The end of the clove that was broken from the bulb should be planted down. Cover with 4 to 6 inches of straw mulch.
  • Remove all used plants from garden.
  • Compost plants free of disease potential. Do not compost vine crops and old raspberry canes. That would allow disease and insect pest “carryover” next spring.
  • Burn or dispose of diseased plants.
  • Cut asparagus plants to ground after hard frost and dispose of plants.
  • Sanitize tomato cages. I spray them with hose and then Clorox Clean-Up.
  • We gather fall leaves on lawn with a mulcher mower and deposit on our garden after all plants are out of the garden. Then the leaves are plowed under in the fall to help improve the soil texture. Some people prefer the no till method so mulched leaves could just be left on top of the soil to decompose during the winter.
  • If you have raised beds, apply above techniques accordingly

November

  • Mulch asparagus bed with chopped leaves or straw to protect crowns from frost.
  • Mulch parsnips with a foot of straw or marsh hay for winter protection. Mark rows with stakes.
  • Make sure tools are cleaned and oiled for winter storage.
  • Protect the trunks of young fruit trees against animal damage with wire or plastic rodent guards.
  • Plastic guards may also protect young plants from sun scald.
  • Sit back and take a well deserved rest from garden chores!

 

“If it is true that one of the greatest pleasures of gardening lies in looking forward, then the planning of next year’s beds and borders must be one of the most agreeable occupations in the gardener’s calendar. This should make October and November particularly pleasant months, for then we may begin to clear our borders, to cut down those sodden and untidy stalks, to dig up and increase our plants, and to move them to other positions where they will show up to greater effect. People who are not gardeners always say that the bare beds of winter are uninteresting; gardeners know better, and take even a certain pleasure in the neatness of the newly dug, bare, brown earth.”

—Vita Sackville-West

Recycle Your Christmas Tree

Christmas trees are too often tossed unceremoniously onto the curb right after the holidays. But there’s no reason holiday evergreens can’t be allowed to serve long after the merry-making is over.

For a splash of instant green, cut the branches of pine, fir, spruce, or other needled evergreens and add them to barren window boxes or containers.

You can also use branches to protect dormant plants. A think cover of evergreen limbs helps keep the surface layer of soil moist, and also helps to stabilize soil temperature, reducing the rapid cycles of frost and thaw that can heave perennials and shrubs from the ground and rip their roots.

Christmas greenery also can be used as tracery on trellises and arbors. Held in place with plastic ties or string, cut boughs give plants like climbing roses, and vines like grapes or clematis, a good-looking shield from drying winter winds and sun.

In addition, leftover evergreens are useful for augmenting the natural foliage around a bird feeder or bath. Wild birds like protection and aren’t choosy whether their evergreen screen is living or dead.

There is an art to denuding a Christmas tree, though, and pruning shears or loppers are a must. Heavy gloves make it easier to handle the rough bark and the needles. If you must cut up the tree inside, cover the floor with a plastic sheet to prevent a mess of needles and sap.

Remove the evergreen boughs from gardens and planters when the tips of early spring bloomers, like crocus or snowdrops, have pushed about an inch out of the ground. Where no bulbs are planted, leave the branches until mid-April or whenever spring seems securely in place.

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.

Ice Storm Mitigation

dennis-macdonald-tree-branches-after-an-ice-stormWinter is far from over and it seems like we get at least one or more days of freezing rain in late winter. The freezing rain will cause ice to build up on the branches of trees and shrubs, and you might wonder if there’s anything you can do to help mitigate potential damage in your garden.

Usually, it’s best to just leave everything alone as a coating of ice for a day or two rarely hurts a plant. Branches may sag a bit, but then the ice melts or cracks off and all is well.

If, however, the ice is quite heavy and more ice is due, you can reduce the weight, and therefore the risk of damage, by carefully removing some of the ice. Use a soft broom and gently tap the branches, cracking the ice so it falls off. You don’t have to worry about removing all of it — just enough to lessen the weight on the branches. Be careful not to hit the branches too hard or you may end up damaging the bark or breaking off the buds. Also, use caution with large trees or shrubs so you don’t drop ice or branches on your head!