Tag Archive | spring gardening

Bulb Farmers Rock!

OCMGA Master Gardener David Calle is passionate about gardens — especially historic gardens and finding a way to incorporate lessons from the past into our own gardens.

From David’s blog explaining the passion behind his blog:  “I created this blog to share my love of gardens and the stories and people behind them.  My passion for historic gardens has taken me to dozens of gardens across 5 continents.  I hope you will join me on this journey and share your comments and experiences.”

I’m crazy about his stories and one of his recent ones “Bulb Farmers Rock” really captured my fancy because, on my bucket list, is a trip to Keukenhof when the bulb fields are all in bloom.

Take a minute to enjoy David’s blog post, and subscribe so you won’t miss future blogs!

http://www.thegoodgarden.com/new-blog/tulips-garden-history-bulb-farmers

Little Scientists at Work

by OCMGA Master Gardener Shirley Martin

As part of the preparation for the upcoming planting season several Master Gardner volunteers went to some classrooms at the Appleton Bilingual School and presented a seed starting class. These children and their teachers were very interested in the project and took the instructions very seriously. They are documenting their results with words and pictures. They were so excited to see the seeds sprout in the “planters” made from old water bottles.

The bottles are cut in half and the top is inverted into the bottom. A coffee filter is stuffed into the neck of the bottle then the top of the bottle is filled with soil and seeds are planted in it. This coffee filter acts as a “water wick” to transfer water from the bottom of the bottle (reservoir) to the the planting medium. It is inexpensive and effective. It fits on most windowsills and is an ideal mini-planter.

Rhubarb Season is here

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tom Wentzel

UntitledThis is my first rhubarb harvest this year. There was one more, but I ate it. We all have bunches of recipes for using rhubarb so I won’t go there.

Chinese records from 2700 BC record its medicinal use. Marco Polo documented its use, but I’m not sure if he introduced it to Europe. A while ago, I visited Old World Wisconsin. In one of the Germany heritage houses there was a string of, what I thought, were chicken bones. It was dried rhubarb! Many of the historical uses that I have read seem to be medicinal, rather that culinary.

My first picking didn’t have that lip puckering sourness of later season harvests. The sourness is due to the pH (acidity) which is in the range of 3.1 – 3.2. For reference, fresh lemon juice has a pH of about 2. Adding sugar doesn’t “neutralize” the acidity, it simply covers it up.

Rhubarb leaves have a reputation as being toxic. This is due to the relatively high concentration of oxalic acid. Oxalic acid’s primary effects can be stomach irritation and kidney problems. Ten pounds of leaves would be required to deliver a lethal dose. Kitchen pot cleaners such as Bar Keepers Friend and ZUD use oxalic acid as the primary active ingredient.

Uses for Rhubarb leaves:

  • Use them as a mulch.
  • They can be composted in limited quantities.
  • GREAT for leaf castings
  • I have seen recipes for rhubarb leaf concoctions as insecticides and repellents. These have been anecdotal, their effectiveness has not been verified.

I will break my promise not to talk recipes. Here’s mine: Peel, then eat.

All-Purpose Fertilizer for Vegetables

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Nice, rich compost

Every year, we get the same questions in a variety of formats:  why won’t my vegetables grow? What should I do to grow more tomatoes? Do I need different types of fertilizer for my different vegetables? The answer to all of these questions is the best fertilizer for your soil and vegetables: compost! Compost is the all-purpose answer to everything, and if you have enough of it you won’t need much of anything else. Though different crops have different needs, they will be able to serve themselves from the smorgasbord provided by healthy soil with plenty of compost in it. Once you start adding specific fertilizers, you start having to pay attention to each individual diet.

Salad greens, for example, want lots of nitrogen to promote the fast growth of leafy tissue. Peppers, on the other hand, are more eager for the potassium that promotes flower and fruit development. Although they too need nitrogen, they’d make great big green leafy bushes with nary a pepper in sight if you gave them a lettuce-appropriate dose.

And major nutrients like nitrogen and potassium are just the beginning. There are dozens of micronutrients, such as boron, calcium, and copper, that plants must have — in different amounts — to thrive.

In practice, it can be hard to create soil so fertile that no amendment is necessary, especially when growing vegetables in a small space. But before you break out the fertilizer cookbook and start concocting special meals for all the crops you want to grow, make sure the soil is well drained and well aerated, and that the pH is between 6 and 7 (the best range for most vegetables). Ensuring these conditions exist may be all you need to do. If the soil is bad or the pH out of whack, it won’t matter what you put on the table, the vegetables won’t be able to eat.

by Vicki Schilleman, OCMGA Master Gardener

Seed Starting

Seeds are amazing. These small packages contain everything needed to make a whole plant, and many also contain tiny sensors to tell them if the time is ripe for germination. Among those sensors is phytochrome, a pigment that is sensitive to certain wavelengths of red light.

Who cares? You will if you sow these seeds and cover them with soil. Seeds that need light, and often they are smaller seeds, will not germinate if they are buried too deeply. When a seed is struck by sunlight (or light from a regular incandescent bulb), the phytochrome changes. If the seed has warmth, moisture, and oxygen, the change in the phytochrome breaks the seed’s dormancy and allows germination. If the environment is not to the seed’s liking, the phytochrome slowly changes back and the seed waits for another blast of light when conditions are better.

Among seeds that need light to germinate are ageratum, California poppy, gaillardia, coleus, columbine, love-in-a-mist, snapdragon, Shasta daisy, strawflower, sweet alyssum, and sweet rocket. You can’t tell by looking, so following seed-package instructions is always a good idea.

Scarifying

Seeds vary in the texture and thickness of their seed coat, which affects how fast water can penetrate. The presence of water in turn allows germination.

Some plants, among them flowers like morning glory, lupine, and moonflowers, have rather thick seed coats. To get them going, suppliers often recommend that they be scarified — nicked, scraped, or chipped — to create tiny breaks in the seed coat. With these cracks, moisture can penetrate easily and the plant will spring to life more quickly.

What happens if there’s no human around to do this job? Nature has methods, but they take longer. Thick seed coats are eventually worn away by soil fungi, bacteria, the elements, or a trip through the digestive system of a bird or other animal.

Temperature

Good seed germination depends on more than adequate light and moisture. It’s also affected by soil temperature.

Different plants have different needs in the temperature department, but almost all of them will do okay at 70º to 75ºF.

Because cold tap water can lower the temperature considerably, use tepid. And don’t forget that temperatures warm enough to keep the soil in the 70s will probably make the air above the soil too warm for the seedlings when they do come up. The solution? Either supply bottom heat only, using a gardener’s heat mat or heating cable, or put the flats on top of the fridge until about half of the seeds have sprouted and then move them to the windowsill.

Seed Storage

Chances are good you will have leftover seeds when you’re done planting annuals. Not all of them are worth saving; asters and larkspurs, for instance have very short storage lives. But most will be perfectly usable next year if they are stored dry, cool, and dark.

Date each packet and reseal it with tape. Put the packets in a glass jar with a screw cap, or in a thick-plastic freezer-storage bag. Put the jar or bag in a cool place or in the freezer (away from the coils if it a self-defrosting model). When you’re ready to use the frozen seeds, remove the packets from the jar or bag and spread them out flat before letting them thaw, so they don’t get wet from condensation.

A few seeds will die, no matter how carefully they are stored, so plant saved seed a little more thickly to allow for the reduced germination rate.

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

When to Plant Trees

tree-planting-guide-diagramFor most trees, fall is the best time to plant. The soil is warm but not waterlogged the way it can be in spring, and trees without leaves make fewer demands on their roots to provide nutrients.

A few trees, however, including magnolia, birch, hawthorn, black gum, tulip tree, and most oaks, get downright cranky when planted in the fall. No one knows for sure, but researchers think that there is something that prevents the root structure from taking up enough water to overcome transplant shock, and that winter comes before the tree is ready for it.

Studies by Dr. Nina Bassuk at the Cornell University Urban Horticulture Institute in Ithaca, New York, show that transplanting these trees when they are smaller increases the success rate for fall planting. She has had much better results with trees that measure less than 2 inches in diameter at a point 6 inches above where the trunk emerges from the roots than she has had with larger trees. Be sure to water that new tree in well. Whether it has leaves or not, it needs water.

Watering also settles the soil and helps eliminate any air pockets. Dormant trees planted in October or early November should need only that one deep, soothing watering to last them the winter. But all that said, it is still better to plant magnolias in spring.

Like other things in life that aren’t what they used to be, burlap has changed. Whether for the better depends on your point of view. A single layer of plain old untreated burlap, now almost a thing of the past, rots away nicely and lets roots wander freely out of their soil ball. But you are just as likely to run into a plastic burlap-like material, or into burlap that has been treated with a rot-resistant chemical.

Both are popular in the horticultural industry for the same reason: they stay intact longer, through sunshine and waterings, as the tree makes its way from its growing site to you. But that perseverance presents problems for growing roots trying to find their way into new surroundings. Rot-resistant burlap takes years longer to decay than untreated does, and even untreated burlap presents a formidable boundary if wadded down in layers and left in place.

In both cases, these barriers restrict the diameter of the roots as they grow out. In some cases, the tree may even die. At that point, you can dig it up and use the original wrapping to take the dead tree to the dump.

To avoid such problems, after placing the tree in that nice extra-wide-but-no-deeper-than-the-ball hole, untie the twine around the trunk and cut away the burlap.

Note: some ideas are harder to kill than crabgrass. One of them is that when a tree is dug up to be sold, the branches should be removed to compensate for the loss of roots. The rationale is to balance root loss with the removal of an equal amount of top growth. The tree is then thought to be better balanced and better able to withstand transplant shock.

As logical as this sounds at first, it just doesn’t hold up. The human equivalent might be removing the right arm of someone who has just lost her left leg in an accident.

Transplanted trees need all the food they can produce to support the regrowth of those lost roots. The food comes from leaves doing their thing, so the more leaves, the better. The only branches that should be pruned are those that are dead, diseased, damaged, or rubbing against other branches.

Bringing the Asparagus Harvest to a Close

640px-Wild_asparagus_cutOh, those delicious spears are one of the great harbingers of Spring in Wisconsin, and it’s a bit heartbreaking when it’s time to draw the harvest to a close! From Diana Alfuth, horticulture educator for Pierce & St. Croix County UW-Extension in Wisconsin, comes the following advice for caring for your asparagus patch.

“You should stop harvesting when the emerging spears are about the diameter of a pencil; this will give the crowns time to rejuvenate for next year’s harvest.

When harvesting is over, fertilize according to soil test results, or with a complete fertilizer such as a 10-10-10, to replenish nutrients used during the harvest season. Let the ferns grow to collect sunlight and restore the root system. In fall, once the ferns have yellowed, cut them back and dispose of them to prevent overwintering of asparagus beetles and rust, two of our most common asparagus pests.

Top-dress your patch with compost or another mulch to reduce weeds. You can eliminate perennial weeds such as quackgrass, with glyphosate (Roundup). For a small patch, put on a rubber glove, then a cloth glove over that. Wet the fingers of the cloth glove with glyphosate and wipe it on the grass blades, avoiding contact with the asparagus. The herbicide will go into the blade and down to the roots, killing the weed, but not harming the asparagus. Tedious, but very effective. If you have a large patch you can try spraying glyphosate in late fall after you’ve cut back the ferns, or in early spring before spears have emerged.”

Diana Alfuth, horticulture educator for Pierce & St. Croix County UW-Extension, teaches the master gardener program and is a frequent speaker throughout the region about gardening and sustainable landscaping. She is a regular guest on WEAU-TV and teaches landscape design at UW-River Falls.