Pickaway to Garden
Old Dog Days
By Paul J. Hang
The Dog Days start July 3 through August 11. Dog Days have the well-earned reputation of being hot and miserable. Dog days are named for the star Sirius which is the brightest star and is in the constellation Canis Major, the Big Dog. Sirius rises and sets with the sun this time of year. Ancients believed it added heat to the sun. This, they believed, made the dog days the hottest, muggiest, most uncomfortable days of the year causing lethargy, illness and dogs to go mad. They sacrificed a brown dog as a way to get some relief. I do not recommend this. Dog is man’s best friend and, as we all know, every dog will have his day.
By now the Dog Days are getting old. And, like an old dog, the summer is waning and slowing down. Like old Rover, August can have some “lazy days” of summer. But old dogs need a lot of maintenance just like a garden. If you care for an old dog you also know it can be rewarding. If you have been caring for your garden, this month will be the most rewarding for harvesting vegetables and for enjoying flowers.
By the end of the first week of August we will be at mid-summer, half way between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox. By mid-month days are getting noticeably shorter. Although this is true the heat is not over. Maintenance in the garden will be key as August can be dry and hot. Long range predictions are for hotter and an equal chance for drier, weather for the Midwest.
All this heat and drought is stressful for us and dogs, young and old, and all plants. Newly planted lawns, trees and shrubs also need our special attention. Water deeply weekly not lightly frequently. Plants in containers are an exception, they may need watering daily. Stressed plants are an invitation to all manner of insect pests and diseases. Be vigilant. If you see trouble, investigate to see if the problem is caused by the weather, disease or by a pest.
August produces butterflies, dragonflies, fruit flies, houseflies and time flies. The daylily blooms are already gone their bare scapes reminding us of what was. Yarrow's blooms are browning. Sunflowers are drooping. Bird migration has begun. Cicadas, crickets, and katydids begin their chorus not to be silenced until the frosts of fall. August brings meteors, tomatoes, sweet corn, watermelon, Black-eyed Susans, hibiscus, iced tea and lemonade, berries and ice cream. Like an old dog, we know these times will be gone too soon. Let’s enjoy them while they’re here.
Things to do in the garden:
August is Tree Check month. For advice on what trees to plant and where to plant them, go to www.arborday.org or contact our City Tree Commission. Water if we don’t get at least an inch of rain each week. Water at the base of the plant and do it in the morning. Water trees and shrubs planted in the past two years or if they look distressed.
You can still have a garden for food. Plant healthy looking broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage plants if you can find them early in the month. Direct-seed beets, lettuces, spinach, radishes, turnips, and snap peas mid-month, for a fall garden. Keep the seeds and soil moist for best germination. Harvest vegetables and herbs in the morning for best results. Dig potatoes if the vines have died. Harvest onions when the tops fall over and cure in the sun for a few days.
As plants die back or stop producing remove them so bad insects and disease don’t have a place to over- winter. This is particularly important for the vegetable garden. Some landscape plants, such as coneflowers and those with hollow stems, also native ornamental grasses, you can leave alone for seeds for wintering birds and insects and for visual winter interest. Put the debris of healthy plants in the compost bin, diseased plants in the trash. Pull crabgrass and other weeds before they go to seed.
Want to have a new garden next year? Now is a good time to prepare the site. Cover the area with black plastic, thick cover of newspaper or cardboard weighted down; anything that will block the sun will leave bare earth come spring. This is the time to renovate or build a new lawn. Do your research at ohioline.osu.edu. Start cuttings of coleus, begonias, geraniums and impatiens for growing indoors this winter. Move houseplants to a shady spot to prepare them to move indoors.
Disbud and fertilize your dahlias for bigger blooms. Fertilize (side dress) peonies and roses with a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 or 12-12-12. Order garlic and spring flowering bulbs, plant biennials. Divide, transplant or give away perennials that are overgrown and plant new container grown ones. Add new mulch where needed.
By the end of the month consider disbudding your tomato plants. Remove the growing tips of each branch and pinch out all the blossoms that bloom. It takes six weeks from blossom to fruit. This practice will give bigger tomatoes and prevent all those marble size tomatoes that the frost gets and never reach the table. Experiment! Try this also with melons and winter squash.
Consider picking tomatoes before they are completely ripe. They will ripen off the vine if they show a blush of green on an otherwise red, purple or yellow tomato. Totally ripe tomatoes still on the vine can burst with a glut of water from rain or the hose. They can be sampled by birds and mammals. Follow this advice and you will enjoy more and better tomatoes.
Monitor for pests. Check under the leaves. Think before you spray. Know your enemy. Use organic methods first. Remember, 97 percent of insects are either good or neutral. As Joe Boggs, OSU Extension Educator recommends, use the digital method, in this digital age, to eliminate some bugs. The two-step stomp technique can also be quite effective. Or, just flick them into a cup of soapy water. No bug species has developed a resistance to these tactics.
Need gardening advice? Call the Gardening Helpline at the OSU Extension Office 474-7534. Other resources are ohioline.osu.edu and, to read a weekly discussion of plant problems check out bygl.osu.edu. Buckeye Yard and Garden Line (bygl) is a real education.
Pickaway to Garden
By Paul Hang
I am referring to the plant not the fruit. If the plant is baked you are not likely to get any fruit, baked or otherwise. Lately our tomato plants, along with us, are being baked in the garden. At prolonged temperatures of 85 degrees plus and especially with high humidity, tomato plants are prone to dropping their blossoms and not setting fruit. I have noticed that my plants don’t have as many tomatoes on them as I am used to seeing. How about you?
I turns out that tomatoes have perfect flowers, which means they have male (Stamens) and female (Pistils or Stigmas) parts in the same flower. They are self-fertilizing and don’t need bees or other insects to help fertilize them. Tomatoes like it warm, they are a tropical plant, but not too hot. With prolonged hot temps and high humidity the pollen becomes sticky and does not fall from the Stamens onto the Pistil and thus the ovary is not fertilized and the blossom dries and drops off. No fruit forms.
If the leaves on your tomato plants are also dropping off this is another clue they are too hot. What to do? Water well and regularly. Stick your finger in the soil and if it is dry an inch down you need to water, about an inch a week or more when it is hot. Mulch the plants with organic material or plastic. If you have your tomatoes in containers you might be able to move them into shade temporarily. You might try shade cloth if it is feasible.
Another trick is to flick the flower with your finger when the blossoms are bright butter-yellow. Don’t flick them so hard that the petals fall off; you are just trying to dislodge the pollen. For a thorough discussion of this go to joegardener.com, Podcast #266. There, Tomato guru Craig LeHoullier gives lots of ways to improve your tomato growing.
Prolonged hot weather can also affect the pollination of other solanaceous vegetables such as peppers, potatoes and eggplants. Melons, squash, cucumbers, pumpkins and beans can also suffer from poor pollination when the temperature and humidity are high. With all these plants affected, perhaps I should have titled this column Baked Ratatouille.
Have gardening questions? Call the Gardening Helpline 740-474-7534. To read about problems facing those of us who “grow things,” check out bygl.osu.edu.
Things to do in the garden:
Are you waiting on cucumbers and squash to start bearing fruit? Remember, they get male flowers first then later the female flowers come on. Then, after pollination, the fruit can form. This is the time to dry herbs. Harvest just before they flower. Pick on a sunny dry day and in the morning. Tie them in small bundles with rubber bands. Hang them upside down in a hot, dry, dark, well ventilated spot in an attic, barn or shed. This is also the time to harvest garlic and hang them or lay them out to dry and cure. Harvest when leaves are turning yellow but there are still one or two green leaves.
Weeding, deadheading and watering are high on the list of routine activities. If July turns out to be bone dry, as usual, water the equivalent of one inch per week. Don’t let your plants wilt. This will cause blossom end rot in tomatoes and other solanaceous plants like peppers and eggplant. Mulch to conserve moisture and keep down weeds. If you haven’t mulched yet do so after a soaking thunderstorm or a good watering. Vegetables higher in water content need more water e.g. tomatoes, watermelons, onions vs. green beans.
Keep your mower blades sharp; cut your grass long, 3-4 inches is ideal. If you use a pesticide for grubs you are also killing the ones that produce fireflies. Consider organic methods if you have a grub problem. Kill Japanese beetle scouts before they let their comrades know about your garden. Brush them off into a cup of soapy water or alcohol (not Jim Beam). Repeatedly letting the lawn go dormant and reviving it by watering can kill the grass. Either keep watering or wait for Mother Nature to do it for you. Don’t forget to water your compost heap. It needs to remain moist for fast decomposition.
Going on vacation? Water well before you leave. Place container plants in a shady area. They should do fine for a week depending on the weather. If you will be gone longer have someone reliable come over and water regularly. Container plants in the hot sun may need watering daily.
If your grafted trees or roses are sprouting suckers below the graft, cut the sprouts off.
Keep picking seed pods off the annuals and clipping spent flowers (deadheading) to encourage bloom all summer. Pinch back mums July 15th for the last time.
Always read the labels on your plants for fertilization. Most woody plants have completed their growth and their buds for next year so fertilizing trees and shrubs after early July is a waste of money and may harm the plant. Keep watering trees and shrubs planted in the past 2-3 years. Ten gallons for every inch in diameter every week is good.
Consider planting a fall garden this month. Cool weather vegetables can be planted to take advantage of the coming cool fall weather. Plants such as cabbage, broccoli, spinach, collards, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts (plant seeds now, seedlings later), kale, Swiss chard even beets and parsnips thrive in our fall weather. If it is hot and dry, consider starting your plants indoors (except for root crops). Acclimate seedlings to the sun before putting them out in the garden.
Other vegetables that grow well in cool weather but should be planted a little later are lettuce planted through August and September, carrots and radishes in September. Count the days before the average frost (mid-October), veggies that have that many days to harvest can still be planted. Check the seed packet. There are also some other varieties of vegetables that can overwinter for harvesting in the spring. Check varieties in seed catalogs or on-line. Order now.
Pickaway to Garden
By Paul Hang
Thomas Fuller was a 16th century prolific writer, historian and churchman who was noted for his humor, except when it came to his sermons. He said, “Many things grow in the garden that were never sown there.” Perhaps you have had the experience of surprise when you discovered a plant in your landscape that you didn’t plant, or perhaps you forgot you planted it? I am not referring to the ubiquitous weeds that pop up incessantly the result of who knows what, the wind, an animal, bird poop, or maybe a seed stuck to your shoe and you are responsible. Those are unfortunate surprises.
I prefer the pleasant variety. Just the other day as I was coming into the house I noticed a different leaf lifting above the Hairy Mountain Mint patch by the garage. It wasn’t the usual Canada thistle or its look alike poppy. Upon closer examination I saw the telltale signs, veins that curve to the tip of the pointed smooth-edged leaf, of dogwood. (I know, you thought the only way to identify a dogwood is by its bark.) We have a dogwood tree on the other side of the driveway and so a seed must have blown from there and germinated all by itself. Surprise!
A couple years ago I left a flower pot with soil under a large gold-tipped arborvitae tree at the corner of the house. One day I noticed a very small gold tipped arborvitae leaf sticking out of the soil in the pot. Every year it got a little bit bigger. Eventually I planted it. The “mother tree” was overhanging the roof promoting moss and algae growth so, when we were adding on, I had it removed. I don’t miss that tree near as much because I have one of her offspring that is about 15 feet tall. Surprise!
This spring I thought I had a weed growing in a flower bed as it was getting quite tall very fast. I decided to wait before pulling it. I am glad I did. It has become a handsome pink foxglove that I planted last year. Being a biennial, foxglove, or digitalis, blooms in its second year. Surprise! All these pleasant surprises and many more, were the result of being observant and patient. These traits were not something I was born with but have worked hard to acquire. Now that I am in my golden years I am grateful to have at least a modicum of them. I think gardening has taught me those and other lessons.
I hope you will walk more in your garden, no matter how modest or new, observe, be patient and you may agree with the philosopher Francis Bacon, “Gardening is the purest of human pleasures.”
Things to do in the garden:
It is not too late to start a garden. Plants of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant are the best bet for early June transplanting. Plants that can be planted from seed in early June are: green beans (successive plantings every three weeks can extend the harvest), beets, carrots, Swiss chard, corn (depending on the variety), cucumber, lettuce, lima beans, muskmelon, winter and summer squash.
To avoid the wilting of cucumber and melon vines cover the new plants with row cover material until the plants flower. Then remove the cover so that the pollinators can do their work. Use row covers on all vegetable plants that do not need to be pollinated: cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, onions and root crops are examples. We eat them before they flower and go to seed, thus no need for them to be pollinated. I have begun to do this on more vegetables and it keeps most pests away. Mulch vegetables in mid-month after the soil has warmed up. You can fertilize all vegetables, corn two times, this month.
Weed and thin plants. Crowding plants more than is recommended results in all the plants doing poorly. Water deeply (not a little each day) one inch per week all summer. Apply the water to the base of the plants rather than on the foliage. If you use a sprinkler, water early in the day so the foliage can dry before nightfall. Wet foliage overnight encourages fungal diseases to develop.
Remove seed heads from perennials. Don’t allow fancy hybrids to ripen and self-sow as their offspring will not come true. Deadhead flowers for more blooms. Iris can be divided and replanted after blooming. Pinch back mums once they are 4 to 6 inches tall. Continue to pinch back until mid-July. If your daffodils or other bulb plants didn’t bloom well it could be because they are now growing in the shade of larger grown trees or shrubs. Or, perhaps they are too crowded? Once the foliage turns yellow you can dig up the bulbs and divide and/or move them.
Fruit trees often shed small fruits in early summer called June Drop. Thin after this occurs. Thin apples to one fruit per cluster and one fruit every four to eight inches. Other tree fruit can be thinned a little less. This will cause bigger fruit. Don’t thin cherries. Pick up all fallen fruit. Only compost fallen fruit if you have a “hot” heap. Otherwise dispose of diseased fruit in the trash.
If you notice a “volunteer” tomato plant in your garden, yank it out or transplant it. Good gardeners, like good farmers, rotate their crops. A volunteer growing in last year’s tomato area allows disease to accumulate in that spot. Mulch under tomatoes keeps the soil from splashing up on the fruits. Soil on the fruits promotes disease. If you don’t stake, trellis or cage your tomatoes and let them sprawl on the ground, mulch will keep the fruit off the bare ground. Mulch keeps the ground from drying out, suppresses weeds and moderates the soil temperature. Several layers of newspaper topped with organic mulch, leaves, untreated grass clippings, coarse compost, shredded bark etc. should do the trick. Never let your tomatoes wilt. Uneven watering causes blossom end rot.
Water your roses well but hold off on the geraniums. They will bloom best when kept somewhat dry. Roses sprouting from below the graft should be replaced. Peonies should be fertilized after they finish blooming. Newly planted trees and bushes should be watered well each week for the first two years if the weather turns dry. Give them a good soaking. Don’t give them a booster feeding of fertilizer this year. Force those young roots to search for food by stretching out into the soil. Mow the lawn high, 3-4 inches, it crowds out weeds and needs less water, and mowing.
The Master Gardener Volunteers Helpline is open for your gardening questions. Call 740-474-7534 with your question or go to www.Pickaway.osu.edu, click on "Ask an expert."
Pickaway to Garden
By Paul Hang
Can I convince you to vegetate this spring? I don’t mean sitting in front of the TV watching the NBA or NHS playoffs or golf and tennis tournaments. Vegetate has more than one meaning. According to Merriam-Webster, the word was first used in 1605. It comes from Latin and, depending on which Latin root you choose, it can mean; “to live, grow” or “to invigorate,” and “lively.”
Without getting too far into the “weeds,” our usual meaning of the word is to lead a passive existence, to spend your time in a dull, inactive, unchallenging way. It can also mean to grow in the manner of a plant or to produce vegetation. Yet again, as a transitive verb, it means “to establish vegetation in or on” a place.
First, I’d like to take issue with the implication that plants are dull, passive, or monotonous. Plants, we now know, communicate, can sense some aspects of their environment, and even have a sex life. True, they do not have mouths, ears or eyes and, as individuals, they cannot move from where they are planted. However, research has shown that plants are complex organisms and little understood. I have been reading about Native American views of and their relationships to, plants.
They consider plants as individuals with which they have a relationship. Corn, beans and squash (the Three Sisters) give us food. Trees also give us food and building materials for shelter, tools and warmth. Other plants provide clothing, healing and insight. In other words, plants share themselves with us. There is a relationship with them. Native Americans are grateful to plants, and other beings, and give back, nurture and protect them. They ask permission to use them. They thank plants. They reciprocate.
This spring think about vegetating an area in your yard or a container or two. You may find a new friend that will share with you something to eat, smell, taste or just enjoy looking at, all summer long. And, of course, you can also vegetate with an adult beverage in front of the TV or in a hammock, courtesy of plants.
The Master Gardener Volunteers are having their Plant Sale on May 21, 9am-1pm in the parking lot at the Pickaway County Library on N. Court St. Lots of plants, including heirloom tomatoes, are for sale. Our Helpline can be reached by calling the OSU Extension Office at 740-474-7534.
Things to do in the garden:
You can direct-seed corn, beans, potatoes, melons, cucumbers and squash. Place cheesecloth or row cover cloth over vines until they bloom. With any luck you will have prevented the cucumber beetles from invading the plants. This also works on the caterpillars of cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts.
You can set out tomato, pepper and eggplant plants if the soil is warm (60 degrees). There is still a chance of frost but each week the chances become less and less. Be prepared to cover those tender plants if frost threatens. Don't be tempted to over-fertilize tomatoes, extra nitrogen will delay ripening and produce more vine than fruit. Remember tomatoes can be planted deep with the top few branches of leaves above ground. Roots will form along the buried stem. If you stake your tomatoes put the stakes in before you plant. Consider pruning your tomatoes and peppers.
If you plan to put houseplants outside for the summer, a period of transitioning to the new environment will help assure their health and vigor. Fertilize and place in the shade. You can divide and move perennials. As the soil warms (50 degrees) you can plant summer-flowering bulbs such as caladiums, cannas, dahlias, and gladioluses. You can begin spraying roses for black spot following the directions on the product.
Cut the seed pods off your lilacs (after the blooms fade), but do not prune the stems. If your lilacs are getting overgrown and leggy, cut a third of the stems this year at the ground. Do this to a third next year and the final third the year after that. This way you will rejuvenate the bushes. Stake or cage floppy perennials like peonies. For bigger peonies, remove small buds near the larger ones.
Thin apples, peaches and other tree fruit (not cherries) to a fruit every six inches. Remember "June drop." It is a time when fruit trees rid themselves of excess fruit. This is a natural process. Pines can be pruned back. Cut just half of new “candle” growth.
Mulch your beds after the soil has warmed. When you set out those tender plants protect against cutworms that can chew off new transplants. Use collars of aluminum foil, plastic, cardboard or other material to encircle the stem. The collars should extend into the soil an inch and above an inch or two. There are pesticides that can help control these pests (Google "cutworms extension”). I have also placed a toothpick in the ground right next to the plant stem with success.
This is a busy time for pollinators. When you spot a bug identify it before reaching for the spray. Fully 97% of the bugs in our gardens are beneficial or of no threat. Singular bugs are almost always beneficial predators. Crowds are often pests. Know your enemy!
Now is a good time to get rid of invasive and harmful plants. Poison hemlock is very poisonous and a biennial. Second year plants have hairless stems bright green to bluish green with obvious purple blotches. Mowing and tilling are partial controls. Don’t get the sap of Wild Parsnip, which often grows with it, on your skin. Post-emergent herbicides are effective this time of year.
Finally, it’s not how fast you mow but how high. Mow at least 3 inches high for a healthy lawn.
PICKAWAY TO GARDEN
By: Paul Hang
Not In My BackYard! NIMBY is a very human reaction to change that is seen as affecting us negatively. It is a kind of “Get off my lawn” reaction. It is often a reaction to an agricultural, industrial or housing development near us. It can also mean literally in my backyard. Neighbors who allow their plants or animals to encroach on our property can be more than annoying. Revenge pruning anyone? Gardeners can be afflicted by an even more nuanced or esoteric version of NIMBY. When we notice neighbors who allow, consciously or not, plants to grow that we don’t care for we get a case of NIMBY; fearing that those plants will soon be growing in our yard.
NIMBY can also be a reaction to plants that are growing in our community, state or country. April is Native Plant Month. Native plants are plants that occur naturally in their habitat where, over the course of evolutionary time, they have adapted to physical conditions and co-evolved with other species in the system. Colorado Spruce is not native to Ohio; not because we have different political boundaries but because Ohio doesn’t have Alpine conditions. We have different ecotypes. Native animals, including insects, depend on native plants.
All this is to serve as an introduction to the NIMBY reaction to the threat that invasive plants, animals (including insects and bugs), microbes and other organisms present. An invasive species is any non-native species that significantly modifies the ecosystem it colonizes. Invasive species can lead to the extinction of native species, competing with them for limited resources and altering habitat. Human activities, global commerce (Emerald Ash Borer), pet trade (Burmese python), horticulture industry (Bush Honeysuckle) are the most common ways invasive species are transported to new habitats. Invasive species can have significant economic, health and quality of life impacts.
To see the size of the problem go to www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/subject/lists. There are native and non-native plants that are aggressive or thugs that can pose a problem in our yards or gardens and seem invasive but are more of a nuisance. These overly enthusiastic plants can spread and be hard to control. Think: Bee Balm, mint, Lamb’s Ear, Hollyhock, and Creeping Charley and many more.
Invasive insects such as Emerald Ash Borer and Marmorated Stink Bugs are recent introductions that have caused disastrous economic and life-style changes. They have been joined by a new invasive that may prove to be both. The Spotted Lanternfly from Asia was found in eastern Pennsylvania in 2014 and has been found in three counties in Ohio. This leaf hopper sucks sap from trees and plants and is most destructive to peaches and grapes (wine!). It also, in the adult stage, around mid-July, can appear on most trees in such large numbers as to cause a serious nuisance at outdoor functions. The adult is an attractive looking moth-like flyer. In its earlier stages (instars) it looks like a large spotted tick. Ironically, it seems to need to feed on Tree of Heaven, or what we always called Stink Trees, which are also invasive. Google “Penn State Spotted Lanternfly and hosts” for more information. Let’s keep them out of our backyards.
Things to do in the garden:
Using a notebook wander your grounds and note things you need to do and ideas you want to implement. Divide perennials, move a shrub, start a new bed, renew the lawn, order mulch or topsoil, finish pruning fruit trees, raspberries, roses and grapes.
Tomato and pepper seeds should be started indoors. The seedlings should be moved from the cells after 4 weeks into larger pots. Move them into the garden only after hardening them off and the danger of frost is past. As usual make sure you water-in the transplants. When you water, water deeply (top six inches wet) and water the base of the plant not the foliage. Water when the plants need it, not every day. Most plants require 1 to 1 and a half inches of water per week.
Vegetables that can be planted by seed into the garden are: beets, carrots, peas, onions, spinach, leaf lettuce, radishes. Cabbage and broccoli plants can be planted as soil conditions allow. In other words, don’t work our clay soils when they are wet.
Use row covers (Google it) on your vegetables right after planting to keep the bad bugs off. For vegetables that produce fruit (beans, cucumber, pepper, squash, tomatoes, etc.) remove the covers after blooming to let the pollinators go to work. For those that don’t need pollinating (Cabbage, broccoli, onions, chard, kale, lettuce, beets and radishes, etc.) you can leave the covers on until harvest. Make sure you buy the right covers that let in enough light and rain. I have found this to be an effective method to protect plants from bugs that damage vegetables.
Most annual flowers can be seeded directly into the soil after the danger of frost has abated. Some popular annuals that you should consider starting indoors are: snapdragon, wax begonia, sweet William, impatiens, sweet alyssum, petunia, gloriosa daisy, blue salvia, viola, pansy and zinnia, among others. This can save you a considerable amount of money that you can then spend on a perennial.
Time spent on your lawn now will benefit it the rest of the year. Fertilize lightly if at all. The time to re-seed is when night time temps consistently reach 50 degrees and above. This is also the time to aerate lawns. Apply a pre-emergent herbicide when the first bloom appears on Bradford Callery pear in order to prevent crabgrass, unless you plan to seed. When common lilac or Ohio buckeye begins to bloom it is too late for a pre-emergent herbicide to be effective and too early for a post-emergent. Leave clippings on the lawn. Their nitrogen content is high and will reduce the need to fertilize. Mowing height of at least three inches will retard the growth of crab grass and other weeds.
Unless you are prepared to cover plants in case of frost, don’t put out those tender plants such as tomatoes and peppers until mid-May or later when the soil warms up. The average last frost date is now April 23rd. There is a 50/50 chance of frost then and the chance decreases about 10% per week after that. Spring flowering bulbs should be fertilized after they bloom. Remember to leave the leaves of bulbs until they yellow. Brown is better. Also prune spring blooming shrubs after they bloom.
If April brings its overhyped showers don’t work the soil if it is too wet. Wait until it dries out a bit. If it seems wet enough to make a clay pot, wait. Squeeze a ball of earth about the size of a golf ball and let it drop from waist high, if it breaks apart it’s ready to be worked. Don’t apply mulch until May. Allow the soil to warm.
Cut back your ornamental grasses to six inches. Cut back your butterfly bushes (buddleia) to a foot or two and apply a balanced fertilizer. Now is the time to prune roses. Depending on the variety, you may prune back to a foot in height. Bagworms on shrubs and trees hatch out shortly after the Snowmound Spirea blooms. This is when you can spray an insecticide (read the label) to kill the worms.
PICKAWAY TO GARDEN
Timing Is Everything
By: Paul Hang
We’ve all heard that phrase a million times. The earliest place it was used that I could find was by (who else?) William Shakespeare in 1599 in his play Julius Caesar. As I am wont to do, I’d like to consider timing in the garden. March is the perfect time!
Time is often measured in numbers and dates. March 1st is the beginning of meteorological spring. Daylight savings time begins on the13th, astronomical spring begins on the Spring Equinox, March 20. Real spring will arrive, who knows? Timing on TV garden shows is often way off. On February 27th the guide on my cable schedule had “Christmas on the Farm” followed by “Fall Cleanup in the Garden” You wonder, who schedules these things? Reading this column at the end of March misses a lot of time sensitive information. Timing is everything.
Just in time, the other day, I came across a really good time saver. If you go to Garden.org you can plug in your zip code and you can find the last and first average frost dates for your area. For me those dates are April 23 and October 19th. Average frost date means that on that date there is a 50% chance that frost will occur. That’s the same odds that you’ll get heads when flipping a coin. But that’s not all. You can find out what time is best to sow seeds indoors, transplant seedlings into the garden and direct sow seeds for many vegetable crops.
You could extrapolate for flowers depending on how hardy they are. Of course your seed packets also give you planting and other information. Depending on the number of “days to maturity” on the back of the envelope, you can count back and find the latest date the seed should be planted. The exception to these times is always the weather and local conditions. For most summer vegetables, beans, corn, squashes etc., the soil temperature should be near 60 degrees Fahrenheit. For here in zip code 43113 that is around May 2 when you can direct sow them into the garden. If you want to grow Cole crops like broccoli and cabbage or onions, potatoes, kale, lettuce and spinach, plants that can take cool temps, you can direct sow their seeds or starts this month.
By the end of April Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant can be transplanted into the ground as soon as no frost is forecast. There is no guarantee; we have had frost in June. If you plant more than you can cover in case of frost then I’d wait a little longer. These plants, because they take so long until harvest; and the Cole crops, because they should be set out early, should be started indoors in late February or early March! Like the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland, I am already running around yelling, “I’m late, I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date!”
Things to do in the garden:
Begin fertilizing houseplants with a weak solution. Now is a good time to propagate houseplants. March is not too late to try winter sowing. What is winter sowing? It is a way of germinating seeds. Google “winter sowing” for more information. Have your soil tested. Materials and directions are normally available at the OSU Extension Office.
The last average frost date here in zone 6 is April 23rd. A number of seeds should be started this month. Check your seed packet for the number of days to harvest and count back to the date you want to plant your seeds or set out your plants. A word to the wise, don’t set out your plants too early unless you are prepared to protect them should the odds work against you.
Rake the lawn to remove the twigs, leaves, and other winter detritus. Dig out those biennial weeds before they get established. Now is a good time to plant trees and shrubs and bare root roses. The earlier you transplant perennials the better they will do. When is the soil ready to be worked? Soil that sticks to your spade is too wet to work and will be compacted. Make a ball of soil and drop it. If it crumbles it is ready to work.
Before those buds break, spray fruit trees with dormant oil. Read the directions. Prune damaged, diseased, and dead limbs. Also, prune those limbs that grow inward, suckers and water sprouts. Do not remove more than a third of the tree. Prune deciduous trees and shrubs that bloom in the summer. Prune spring flowering trees and shrubs after they bloom. Prune raspberry canes and grapevines and fall flowering clematis.
If you cut back perennials and ornamental grasses (tying up the grasses before cutting them back to about six inches saves a lot of clean up), don’t throw them in the trash or onto the compost pile. Store them until we have a few warm days (temps above 50 F) to give overwintering insects a chance to emerge. Pull back mulch from around perennials on warm days but be prepared to cover them back up if a hard freeze threatens.
Late March and April is the time to apply a pre-emergent to the lawn if you want to prevent crabgrass. The best indicator for this is the first bloom of Callery Pear. But be forewarned, pre-emergents prevent seeds from sprouting. Apply pre-emergent on a calm day. There are now selective pre-emergent that do not affect grass seed. If you plan to seed any parts of your lawn, don’t apply a non-selective to those areas. This warning also applies to areas where you plan to plant vegetables and flowers by directly seeding in the soil. A light fertilization of the lawn is all you’ll need.
Go to weather.cfaes.osu.edu/gdd for phenology information on when plants flower and insects emerge.
PICKAWAY TO GARDEN
The Loam Ranger
By: Paul Hang
Loam is a gardener’s dream soil. It is, or should be, the goal of every gardener to turn their soil into loam. However there is no silver bullet for achieving it Kemosabe. Loam is the best soil texture for plant growth. Loam texture is made up of approximately 40% sand, 40% silt and 20% clay. These particles are bound together into varying sizes of aggregates. Organic matter stabilizes these aggregates and acts as the “glue” that holds them together. This is what makes up the structure of soil. Too much digging and tilling breaks up aggregates into fine powder.
Good soil is made up of approximately 45% mineral particles, 5% organic matter, 25% water and 25% air. Roots need oxygen. Air and water fills in the space between soil particles. Overly wet soils drown plants. Compacted soil suffocates them. Good soil is also made up of dead organic matter, and alive, in the form of micro- and macro organisms. Diversity of organisms in the soil is a good thing. From worms, insects and bugs to arthropods, nematodes, bacteria and fungi, a soil teeming with life is a healthy soil.
How can we be a loam ranger? Adding organic matter to the soil can lead to substantial payoffs. It is the closest thing to a silver bullet. It enhances biological activity and increases biological diversity. As organic matter is added aggregation increases and this in turn improves the water storage capacity. It is important to use varied forms of organic matter. Leaves, straw, newspapers, composted manures of horses, dairy, chickens and most of all compost will give a varied diet for the microorganisms. Organic mulches also add organic matter as they break down. Organic matter oxidizes and gets used up so adding organic matter several times a year helps to maintain a good level.
Finally, soil tests can determine if there are nutrient deficiencies or if the soil pH is interfering with the nutrient availability. Contact the local OSU Extension office (740-474-7534) or soilhealth.osu.edu for soil test information. Soil is the foundation upon which plants are built. It is not too strong a statement to say that all life depends on the soil. Although this has just scratched the surface, you can get degrees in soil science; these suggestions can help create your own loam on the range.
Things to do in the garden:
Not much. Check perennials and bulbs for heaving out of the ground. Press them down gently with your foot. Make a list of plants you want. Inventory seeds you have saved make sure they aren’t past viability. Send in your seed orders. Will our results ever match those of the glossy color pictures? When you make out your seed and plant orders consider planting more native and heirloom plants and vegetables. Native plants are plants that evolved here and are adapted to our conditions, diseases and native pests. While you’re at it try googling the name of a flower you’re thinking about ordering. You will be able to see pictures and planting information.
This is the time to prune trees and shrubs (after you sharpen your tools). You can see their structure now that they are dormant and the leaves are down. Cut out crossing and rubbing branches and unwanted suckers. Pruning can be done to reduce the size of a tree or shrub to bring it in to balance or to remove overhanging branches blocking a view or path. Insects are less likely to be attracted to cuts while trees are dormant. Remember, spring flowering shrubs should be pruned after flowering if you want to enjoy the blooms. Summer flowering shrubs can be pruned now. Cut back butterfly bush (Buddleia) severely
On smaller trees you may want to take care of problems yourself. On larger trees you should call in an expert to inspect and perhaps correct any problems. Arborists are in a slow time of year. The ground, if frozen, will not be damaged and compacted as much from equipment and crews. The Arbor Day Foundation recommends that you have Certified Arborists check any safety problems you may have noticed. To find them go to www.isa-arbor.com click on “Verify Certification” and then “Find an Arborist.” The City of Circleville has a Comprehensive Tree Plan. You can find it at ci.circleville.oh.us, in the search box type Tree Plan. There you will find lots of information on caring for trees.
If you dug up bulbs for storage check on them. Spritz them with water to prevent drying out. Throw away any rotting or shriveled ones. Water any dormant or overwintering plants in your garage or basement. Water houseplants with lukewarm water, don’t overwater and turn them a quarter turn once a week, no fertilizer yet.
Some seeds can be started indoors this month for setting out in late March or early April, depending on the weather: onions, cabbage, cauliflower, and other members of the Cole family. The University of Minnesota has a good discussion; go to www.extension.umn.edu/garden /flowers/starting-seeds-indoors. Also Google Winter Sowing. There you will read how to use old plastic milk bottles to easily germinate some seeds. It is a good way to raise a lot of seedlings for planting “drifts,” those bands of like plants that wander serpentine through our flower beds.
Now is a good time to start building raised vegetable garden beds. If your compost heap isn’t frozen and is workable, turn it
PICKAWAY TO GARDEN
Happy Know Year
By Paul J. Hang
In 2020 we hoped 2021 would be a better year. Wrong! The admonition, “It can always get worse” keeps me from saying that 2022 might be a better year. 2021 was not a better year for the pandemic nor was it any better in my garden. Francis Bacon said “Knowledge is power,” if he is correct then let’s get smarter. We all know the litany, by now, of how to defeat Covid; vax, boost, mask, distance, etc. However, I think it was St. Paul who said something like, I know the good, I don’t do the good. Maybe a little more knowledge will lead to a better year in the garden if not with the pandemic. In gardening, like most other things, we can always learn more. No one knows it all.
There are all kinds of gardening advice, some good, some not so much. Some advice is based on an underlying fact but is misleading or is not complete. An example is that blossom end rot in solanaceous plants, e.g. tomatoes, eggplant and peppers, is caused by a deficiency of calcium. Many people advise adding calcium to the soil to prevent it. Actually, most soils have enough calcium. The lack of calcium is caused by uneven watering, by us or rain. Plants take in minerals that are in solution. If no water is available, no calcium is available. The blossom end of the tomato is the farthest from the roots and can’t develop properly without calcium. The undeveloped flesh is brown, soon rots and turns black. No amount of egg shells or Tums (yes, I heard it) or other additional calcium will prevent blossom end rot. Consistent watering will.
Some hints and resources to become a more knowledgeable gardener follow. Determine your planting zone. Read the labels of purchased plants and the instructions on seed packets for site recommendations (Right Plant in the Right Place) and planting instructions. Read books, take classes, watch gardening shows (Growing a Greener World, joegardener.com is the best), listen to radio gardening programs, and don’t overlook friends and neighbors whose gardens you admire. And, as my Mom used to say, “Look it up on the Google machine.”
Sites to search for gardening information for Ohio and surrounding states are: www.ohioline.edu.osu, (Michigan) www.migarden.msu.edu, (Kentucky) www.uky.edu/hort, (Pennsylvania) www.extension.psu.edu, (Indiana) www.extension.purdue.edu, (West Virginia) www.ext.wvu.edu. Youtube is full of it (advice that is). Make sure the video you’re watching is coming from a university or other trusted source. Go to the Buckeye Yard and Garden Line at http//bygl.osu.edu. There, local state experts discuss gardening issues which are in the form of a newsletter. You can even choose to have it emailed to you.
Have a question? Check with the OSU Extension Service. The Helpline can be reached at 740-474-7534 or www.pickaway.osu.edu where there is a link to “Ask an Expert.” This year I begin the thirteenth year of this column. How time flies! For a little more knowledge you can read prior columns at pickawaygardener.blogspot.com.
Things to do in the garden:
The list of things to do in the garden has gotten shorter. Things we can do about gardening are: Review last year's garden; draw a map while you can still remember what grew where. Plan your gardens and plantings. One of my favorite guides for this is The Ohio Gardening Guide by Jerry Minnich.
Check your supply of old seeds. Are they expired? Do you want to reorder that variety? Read your new seed catalogs. Want some more seed catalogs? Go to gardeningplaces.com. Order seeds and plants of new varieties that you want now. They usually sell out quickly.
Believe it or not, by the end of the month, you can begin to grow members of the Allium family (Onions, Leeks, Garlic and Shallots) from seed indoors. You can get ready by getting your seed starting supplies together. Make sure you provide plenty of light.
Cut back on watering your houseplants and don’t fertilize until March or April when growth begins as the amount of light lengthens, rinse/dust leaves, turn them every few days. When your poinsettias are looking ragged throw them on the compost heap. The same goes for paper whites. In my opinion it is not worth trying to get them to bloom again. If you like a challenge, go ahead but be prepared for disappointment. Amaryllis and Christmas cactus are exceptions and can be kept for re-blooming. Check the internet for instructions.
Establish a new bed by placing black plastic or several layers of newspaper, cardboard or even old carpet down over the area you’ve chosen for the new bed. Weight it down so the wind doesn’t disturb it. By late spring the vegetation under it should be dead and the space ready for planting.
Learn to sharpen your tools, trowels, pruners, spades and if you are adventurous, your mower blades. Oil them and use linseed oil on the wooden handles. Getting rid of a cut live Christmas tree? Don’t. Use it to serve as a wind break for evergreens. Cut the branches off and use them as mulch for perennials. Put it near your bird feeders as cover. Decorate it with suet, fruit, seed cakes, as a bird feeder. Chip it for mulch. If you have a pond, sink it for structure cover for fish. The needles can also be mulch and will not make the soil too acidic. If you had a balled live Christmas tree, plant it ASAP.
Some gardening resolutions: Rotate vegetable crops; water the base of plants, not from above; weed and mulch; use row covers; water newly planted trees and shrubs; visit and check your garden often. Happy Know Year.