The Garden Checklist for February
February is our last month before gardening gets back into full swing in March. Now's a good time to take stock and make plans. Here are some reminders:
•Have your lawn mower and rototiller serviced.
•Take stock of leftover seeds. Get them organized and do some germination testing if they're more than a few years old or if storage conditions have not been cool and dry.
•Purchase new cool white fluorescent bulbs for your indoor grow lights.
•Make final plans for the annual and vegetable gardens and get the seeds ordered soon.
•Look for sales on fertilizer, seed starting supplies, tools and organic mulches.
•Get your hand tools organized and sharpened. Check the handles on shovels and hoes to make sure they're firmly attached.
•Repot your houseplants. Check them closely for insects.
•Plan a perennial border.
•Mulch perennials that have been heaved from the soil. Replant them in the spring.
•Feed the birds.
•Have you had a soil sample analyzed within the past few years? Soil testing information is available at the Extension Office.
•Remember someone special on Valentine's Day with a living plant.
•If you're anxious to get some seeds started, plant onion and leek seeds indoors anytime this month.
•The flower of the month is the violet.
•And, have a super gardening month!
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Why does Sap Flow from Maple Trees?
Nobody really knows for sure. But people have been collecting sap, the sweet, clear liquid from maple trees, for centuries.
The best time for collecting sap is late winter or early spring. Temperatures then often are above freezing, or 32 degrees F, during the day, but below freezing at night. People don't completely understand why the changing temperatures cause sap to flow.
The best theory is that below-freezing temperatures cause sap to freeze and make gases in the sapwood (that's the wood just under the bark) to squeeze together. This leaves room for more water, which is sucked from the ground and into the sapwood by suction, like when you drink from a straw. This extra water then mixes with the sap already in the tree.
When warm weather returns and the sap melts, there is too much of it to fit in the tree. People drill a hole in the sapwood to catch the extra sap in a bucket. The sap can then be made into enough maple syrup to cover all the pancakes you want. Happy eating!
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Proper Time to Prune
An important aspect of pruning is knowing when to prune plants. Proper timing helps insure attractive, healthy, productive plants.
Spring-flowering shrubs bloom in the spring on the growth of the previous season. Two widely planted examples are lilac and forsythia. The proper time to prune spring-flowering shrubs is determined by their condition. Old, neglected, spring-flowering shrubs often require extensive pruning to rejuvenate or renew the plants. The best time to rejuvenate large, overgrown shrubs is late winter or early spring (March or early April) .While heavy pruning in late winter or early spring will reduce or eliminate the flower display for a few years, the long term health of the shrubs is more important. If spring-flowering shrubs need only light pruning, prune them immediately after bloom. Pruning immediately after bloom allows gardeners to enjoy the spring flower display and gives the shrubs adequate time to initiate new flower buds for next season.
Summer-flowering shrubs, such as potentilla and spirea, bloom in summer on the current year's growth. Prune these shrubs in late winter or early spring. Summer-flowering shrubs pruned in late winter or early spring will still bloom in summer.
Many deciduous shrubs don't produce attractive flowers. These shrubs may possess attractive bark, fruit, or fall leaf color. Prune these shrubs in late winter or early spring before growth begins.
Prune evergreen shrubs, such as juniper and yew, in late March to mid-April before new growth begins. Light pruning may also be done in late June or early July.
While deciduous trees can be pruned anytime during the year, the best time to prune is late winter or early spring before the trees leaf out. Some trees, such as maples, bleed heavily when pruned in late winter or early spring. The heavy bleeding, however, doesn't harm the trees. The trees won't bleed to death and the flow of sap will gradually slow and stop.
The best time to prune fruit trees is from late February to early April. Fruit trees pruned in fall or early winter may be susceptible to winter injury.
Prune grapevines in March or early April. Don't be alarmed by the heavy bleeding of the vines. This will not cause a problem.
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Soil for Raised Beds
Many gardeners will be constructing raised beds this spring. This centuries-old technique increases the soil depth to improve the health and productivity of a garden. If they're properly constructed, raised beds will have better soil structure and drainage. Soil in raised beds dries out earlier in the spring to give you a headstart.
Permanent raised beds have supported sides. A variety of materials including wood, concrete blocks, bricks or stones can be used for the sides. Raised beds are generally 3 to 4 feet wide. They can be any length. In this way, gardeners can plant, tend and harvest their crops without walking on the soil. This reduces soil compaction so that air and water easily move into the soil. Healthier, more vigorous plants are the result.
The most important addition to your raised bed construction is the soil mix you use to fill the bed. Extension recommends a mix of approximately 2/3 topsoil and 1/3 organic matter such as compost. First, calculate the volume (V = l x w x h) of the bed in cubic feet by multiplying the length times the width times the depth. All of these measurements have to be in feet. A common depth for raised beds in our area is 8 inches. 8 inches equals 0.67 feet. To calculate the volume of a raised bed that's 3 feet wide, 16 feet long and 8 inches deep, multiply 3 times 16 times 0.67. That gives an answer of 32 cubic feet. Now, divide 32 cubic feet by 27 (there are 27 cubic feet in one cubic yard) to calculate the volume in cubic yards. The final answer is 1.2 cubic yards. To provide a good soil mix in this instance, we would recommend mixing one yard of topsoil with one-half yard of leaf humus. Do your best to thoroughly mix the two ingredients as you fill the bed. Since the new soil will settle with rainfall or irrigation, overfill the bed so that it's slightly mounded above the frame. If you can see the inside surface of the frame, you'll know that you need to add more soil. Once the bed is filled, you're ready to plant. Be sure to irrigate newly planted seedlings.
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Grapes are an excellent fruit for fresh use or processing into jam, jelly, juice, pie, or wine. In addition, grapevines can be ornamental and valuable as shade or screen plants in the home landscape when trained on a trellis or arbor. Well-grown grapevines of cultivars such as Concord can produce up to 20 pounds or more of the fruit per vine per year. Once established, well-tended grapevines can be productive for 40 years or more. Home fruit gardeners can be successful if they select the right cultivars, maintain a good fertility and pest management program, and properly prune grapevines annually.
Grape cultivars may be of the American, European, or French hybrid types. American and French hybrid types are best suited to Ohio growing conditions because they tend to be more winter-hardy. Recommended American cultivars include Concord, Niagara, Delaware, Reliance, and Canadice. Several French-American hybrids, such as Seyval Blanc and Vidal Blanc, are recommended for their wine making qualities and good winter hardiness. European grapes are not recommended for home plantings since they are not winter-hardy in Ohio.
Depending on the cultivars selected, grapevines will produce berries that may be red, blue, white (greenish-yellow), purple, or black with a distinctive flavor. Both seeded and seedless types are now available. Some cultivars are good table grapes while others make better wine grapes. In Ohio, the earliest cultivars ripen beginning about mid-August, while the latest cultivars ripen fruit from late September to early October. Canadice is an example of an early season cultivar. Concord is a mid-season cultivar and the most popular grape in Ohio. Reliance is one of the best tasting, red seedless grapes. Catawba is a popular late-ripening cultivar used mostly for wines.
For information on how to grow and care for grapes see OSU Extension factsheet Growing Grapes in the Home Fruit Planting.
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Using Oil Sprays for Pest Control
Various oils have been used to control insect and mite pests for hundreds of years. In recent years, renewed attention has focused on the use of oils as a "natural" substitute for traditional insecticides.
Recent refinements in the manufacture and formulation of oil sprays make today's products much more "plant friendly" than in the past. Because of the wide range of season-long applications that are available, the name "dormant oil" is no longer adequate and the name "horticultural oil" is preferred.
Horticultural oils are highly refined petroleum products than can be mixed with water for application to plants for control of target insect and mite pests and without injury to the plants. Oil sprays are exceptionally safe to humans, wildlife and nontarget insects, such as ladybugs.
The major limitation to using horticultural oils is the very few pests that are effectively controlled by this treatment. Oils are only effective against those pests that are thoroughly coated by the spray solution. This usually means small, immobile or slow moving pests that are exposed on the surface of the plant at the time of application will be controlled. The following pests are good candidates for control by oil spray: pine needle scale, oystershell scale, euonymus scale, aphids, spider mites and small pine sawfly larvae.
If you use oil sprays, read and follow all label instructions. Oils must be mixed exactly at the right dilution rate to prevent plant damage.
Proper timing is critical for success when using oils. Dormant oils should be applied in late March or April before leaves or flowers show signs of breaking dormancy; that is, before "bud break." A common mistake is to apply 'dormant' oil sprays too early (on the first warm day in February or March) before insects are actively respiring and susceptible to the oil's suffocating effects. Wait until as close to bud break as possible before applying oil sprays. For summer use, oils are effective against insects that are "soft and slow." Oils will not control late instar immatures or adult stages. Effective monitoring to discover pest populations in the early stages will be necessary for effective control.
The source for this was Iowa State University.
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Bed bugs were common in the United States prior to World War II, after which time widespread use of synthetic insecticides such as DDT greatly reduced their numbers. Improvements in household and personal cleanliness as well as increased regulation of the used furniture market also likely contributed to their reduced pest status.
Bed bugs have begun making a comeback across the United States, although they are not considered to be a major pest. The widespread use of baits rather than insecticide sprays for ant and cockroach control is a factor that has been implicated in their return. Bed bugs are blood feeders that do not feed on ant and cockroach baits. International travel and commerce are thought to facilitate the spread of these insect hitchhikers, because eggs, young, and adult bed bugs are readily transported in luggage, clothing, bedding, and furniture. Bed bugs can infest airplanes, ships, trains, and buses. Bed bugs are most frequently found in dwellings with a high rate of occupant turnover, such as hotels, motels, hostels, dormitories, shelters, apartment complexes, tenements, and prisons. Such infestations usually are not a reflection of poor hygiene or bad housekeeping.
Adult bed bugs are brown to reddish-brown, oval-shaped, flattened, and about 3/16 to 1/5 inch long. Their flat shape enables them to readily hide in cracks and crevices. The body becomes more elongate, swollen, and dark red after a blood meal. Bed bugs have a beaklike piercing-sucking mouthpart system. The adults have small, stubby, nonfunctional wing pads. Newly hatched nymphs are nearly colorless, becoming brownish as they mature. Nymphs have the general appearance of adults. Eggs are white and about 1/32 inch long.
A bed bug infestation can be recognized by blood stains from crushed bugs or by rusty (sometimes dark) spots of excrement on sheets and mattresses, bed clothes, and walls. Fecal spots, eggshells, and shed skins may be found in the vicinity of their hiding places. An offensive, sweet, musty odor from their scent glands may be detected when bed bug infestations are severe.
Bed bugs hide during the day in dark, protected sites. They seem to prefer fabric, wood, and paper surfaces. They usually occur in fairly close proximity to the host, although they can travel far distances. Bed bugs initially can be found about tufts, seams, and folds of mattresses, later spreading to crevices in the bedstead. In heavier infestations, they also may occupy hiding places farther from the bed. They may hide in window and door frames, electrical boxes, floor cracks, baseboards, furniture, and under the tack board of wall-to-wall carpeting. Bed bugs often crawl upward to hide in pictures, wall hangings, drapery pleats, loosened wallpaper, cracks in plaster, and ceiling moldings.
The bite is painless. The salivary fluid injected by bed bugs typically causes the skin to become irritated and inflamed, although individuals can differ in their sensitivity. A small, hard, swollen, white welt may develop at the site of each bite. This is accompanied by severe itching that lasts for several hours to days. Scratching may cause the welts to become infected. The amount of blood loss due to bed bug feeding typically does not adversely affect the host.
Control of bed bugs is best achieved by following an integrated pest management (IPM) approach that involves multiple tactics, such as preventive measures, sanitation, and chemicals applied to targeted sites. Severe infestations usually are best handled by a licensed pest management professional. For information, see OSU Extension Factsheet HYG-2105-04 on Bedbugs.
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Black Knot of Plum
Black knot of plums and cherries is a widespread and serious disease throughout the United States. Black knot is a common disease in Ohio on wild plums and cherries and in home orchards where pruning and spraying are not regularly practiced.
The disease becomes progressively worse during each growing season and unless effective control measures are taken, it can stunt or kill the tree. The black knot fungus can infect American, European, and Japanese varieties of cultivated plums and prunes. Cherries are also affected by the fungus, but are generally less susceptible than plum or prune. Occasionally, it may also infect apricots, peaches and other related fruits.
Most plum varieties grown in Ohio, including Stanley and Damson, are susceptible to this disease. Some varieties do exhibit resistance to the fungus attack. Japanese varieties of plums are generally less susceptible than most American varieties.
The black knot fungus mainly affects twigs, branches, and fruit spurs. Usually, infections originate on the youngest growth. On infected plant parts, abnormal growth of bark and wood tissues produce small, light-brown swellings that eventually rupture as they enlarge. In late spring, the rapidly growing young knots have a soft (pulpy) texture and become covered with a velvety, olive-green growth of the fungus. In summer, the young knots turn darker and elongate. By fall, they become hard, brittle, rough and black.
Smaller twigs usually die within a year after being infected. Larger branches may live for several years before being girdled and killed by the fungus. The entire tree may gradually weaken and die if the severity of the disease increases and effective control measures are not taken.
Established orchards or backyard trees should be scouted or examined each year for the presence of black knot, and infected twigs should be pruned out and destroyed or removed before bud break. It is important to prune at least 2-4 inches (5-10 cm) below each knot because the fungus grows beyond the edge of the knot itself.
Fungicides can offer significant protection against black knot, but are unlikely to be effective if pruning and sanitation are ignored.
For more information, see the OSU Extension's factsheet Black Knot of Plums and Cherries.
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Raspberries ripen shortly after strawberries and make an excellent small fruit crop for summer and fall depending on the cultivars selected. Two years are required to establish a raspberry planting, but once established, the planting can remain productive for several years if given good care.
Producing a good harvest of raspberries requires proper pruning. It is very important to understand the terms used to describe various parts of a raspberry plant before attempting to prune raspberries. Raspberry canes are of two types, primocanes and floricanes. Primocanes are first year canes while floricanes are second-year fruiting canes.
Summer red raspberries should be pruned twice a year, first in the spring and immediately after harvest. The spring pruning, in late March or early April, consists of removing all weak canes and cutting back tall canes (over 5 feet) to 4.5 to 5 feet. The second pruning consists of the removal of canes that produced fruits, right after harvest.
Everbearing red raspberries such as "Heritage" raspberry can be pruned to produce fruit once a year or twice a year. If you follow the pruning methods used for summer red raspberries, "Heritage" raspberry will produce fruit once in spring and once in fall. However, many home gardeners and commercial growers mow or cut all "Heritage" canes to the ground in early spring (March or April) for the sake of simplicity. "Heritage" raspberry pruned this way will produce only one crop starting in late August or early September in our area .
Black and purple raspberries are pruned three times a year: in the spring, summer, and after fruiting. First pruning is done in spring when lateral branches are cut back to 8 to 10 inches in length in mid-March. Second pruning is called tipping or heading of new canes or primocanes. When grown without supports, summer tipping is done when black raspberry canes reach 24 inches in height and when purple types reach 30 inches. Tipping is done by removing the top 2 to 3 inches of new shoots as they develop. Third pruning involves the removal of canes that produced fruits, right after the harvest.
For more information on growing and caring for raspberries, see the OSU Extension factsheet Raspberries for the Backyard Fruit Planting.
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Multipurpose Fruit Sprays
Several multipurpose pesticide formulations, which contain a mixture of several insecticides and fungicides, are available for fruit crops. These commercially prepared mixtures are convenient to use, but they have four important disadvantages:
1. None of these multipurpose mixtures controls all of the insects and diseases you are likely to encounter. Not realizing this, many users tend to apply mixtures more frequently and at higher rates trying, in vain, to control some pests.
2. Multipurpose mixtures lack flexibility so that when only a fungicide is required (for example, during bloom), an insecticide also is applied even though it is not needed and could be damaging to bees.
3. Most multipurpose mixtures are more expensive than those you prepare.
4. Mixtures containing dicofol miticide may cause a problem because their continual use may lead to the development of dicofol resistance in mites.
If used on tree fruit, multipurpose sprays should be limited to the period after bloom as maintenance treatments during the summer.
For more information, see Bulletin 780 " Controlling Diseases and Insects in Home Fruit Plantings."
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There are various types of pruning tools. The best tool for the job is determined by the size of the plant material and the situation.
Hand pruners or pruning shears are generally used for cutting branches up to 3/4 inch in diameter. There are two basic types of hand pruners. Scissor-types have curved blades that overlap (scissor action) when making the cut. Anvil-type pruners have a sharpened upper blade which cuts against a flat surface. Generally, scissor-type hand pruners are preferred over the anvil-types. Sharp, properly used scissor-type pruners make close, clean cuts. Anvil-types can't cut as close as scissor-types and are more likely to crush stems when pruning.
Branches from 3/4 to 1-1/2 inches in diameter can be effectively cut with lopping shears. Lopping shears consist of blades attached to long handles so the gardener has better leverage so cuts can be made through larger branches. Lopping shears are also excellent for pruning difficult-to-reach places.
Use a pruning saw on branches larger than 1-3/4 inches in diameter. Various types of pruning saws are available. Small tree branches that are hard to reach from the ground can be pruned with a pole saw or pole pruner. A pole saw is essentially a saw blade attached to a long pole. Pole pruners consist of a stationary hook and hinged blade operated by a rope and mounted on a long wooden or fiberglass pole. Pole saws and pole pruners are generally used to cut branches up to 2 inches in diameter.
Another tool sometimes used by the home gardener is the hedge shears. Hedge shears (manual or electric) are used to shear formal hedges to a definite size and shape. They should not be used to prune trees and shrubs.
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Trees and Shrubs for Partial Shade
Some individuals consider shady sites to be problem areas in the home landscape. However, shady areas actually provide opportunities for home gardeners. Wise plant selection can turn a shady site into an attractive landscape area. A number of trees and shrubs can be successfully grown in partial shade. Partially shaded sites receive 3 to 4 hours of direct sun, but are in shade the rest of the day. Here are a few to consider.
The eastern redbud reaches a height of 20 to 25 feet. Redbuds are cherished for their pinkish-purple flowers that appear in late April or early May. There are also a small number of white flowering cultivars. Mature trees possess a handsome flat-topped to rounded appearance. When purchasing a redbud, select a tree grown from a northern seed source. Redbuds grown from a northern seed source are more likely to be cold hardy. They perform best in moist, well-drained soils.
The pagoda dogwood is a large shrub or small tree. Its mature height and spread is 15 to 25 feet. Ornamental characteristics include a horizontal branching habit, yellowish white flowers in late spring, and reddish purple fall foliage. The pagoda dogwood requires a cool site and moist, well-drained soils. Protected sites and eastern exposures are generally the best planting sites.
Another large shrub or small tree is common witchhazel. Its mature height is 12 to 15 feet. The flowering habit of common witchhazel is unique. It blooms in the fall (October to December). The yellow, strap-like petals unfold on warm days and curl up on cold days. In fall, the leaves turn a bright yellow. Common witchhazel develops a rounded, open habit in shady sites, but has a more dense, fuller habit in full sun.
Another shade tolerant, native shrub is the arrowwood viburnum. It is an adaptable shrub which grows well in sun or shade and tolerates most soils. Arrowwood viburnum grows about 6 to 8 feet tall. Plants produce creamy white flowers in spring followed by blue fruit in the fall.
Selecting and planting shade tolerant trees and shrubs, along with suitable annuals and perennials, can transform bare shady areas into attractive landscape sites. I hope this list provides you with some ideas.
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Types of Lettuces
While planning your vegetable garden this winter, consider growing some of each of the following lettuce types. A variety of lettuces in your salads provides for colors, flavors and textures.
Iceberg is the common head lettuce found in grocery stores. It has crisp, light green leaves that form a compact head. This is the most difficult to grow.
Summer crisp and Batavian are the most heat-tolerant.
Butterhead lettuces have soft, tender, rich green outer leaves with white to yellowish and creamy hearts.
Romaine types have crunchy, long, spoon-shaped leaves; crisp white hearts.
Looseleaf kinds are the easiest to grow. These form smooth triangular leaves that range in color from green to red. These are the most reliable for direct seeding outdoors.
Bibb lettuces produce a small head with dark green leaves.
The OSU Extension factsheet Growing Lettuce in the Home Garden provides more information.
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Valentine's Day Flowers
Can it be almost Valentine's Day already? Roses are the perennial favorite cut flower for this occasion. However, there are several other blooming plants that would also make great gifts for that special someone. Cyclamen's delicately variegated leaves are heart-shaped, but its real attraction are the flowers that come in white and many shades of pink, red or lavender. When buying this plant, look under the leaves to find plants with a large number of flower buds. Provide cyclamen with bright light and very cool temperatures (65 degreedays, 45 degree nights). Water thoroughly when the surface of the soil feels dry to the touch.
A potted azalea is sure to brighten any room with it wide range of bloom colors including variegated. Watch the watering carefully on these since they are often grown in peat moss; don't let it dry out completely. Florist azaleas are not hardy in the Midwest, but can be moved outdoors in the summer.
Cineraria produces an attractive mass of daisy-like blooms in rich shades of pink, red, blue and violet. Keep this plant cool for continued flowering and place them in bright indirect light. Water when the top layer of soil begins to dry and avoid splashing the leaves, which spot easily.
Whether these plants or others are chosen, be sure that they are properly wrapped and transported in a warm car to protect them from cold winter weather. Plants can be injured by even a brief period of freezing temperatures.
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Valentine's Day Options
Maybe your budget doesn't allow for long stem roses for your sweetheart, but take heart there are other options. How about a potted plant to say I love you or you are special to me? Or consider a gift certificate to his or her favorite garden center or nursery? How about classes or membership at Cleveland Botanical Garden or Holden Arboretum? Or, if your sweetheart loves to read about gardening, give a special gardening book or a gift certificate to a favorite bookstore! And, how about a gardening tool, apron, a T-shirt with gardening jargon, or a hat?
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Keeping Cut Flowers Fresh
Following these tips will increase the vase-life of your cut flowers.
1. Buy high quality flowers with preservatives.
2. Learn the cultivar names of the flowers purchased so you can ask for them the next time.
3. Avoid temperature extremes during transport.
4. Make sure vases are filled at all times with a preservative solution. If the flowers have been arranged in a foam-like material, be sure the water in the vase covers the top of the foam to ensure all the roses have an ample supply of water.
5. Re-cut all loose bunched flowers and any flowers that wilt prematurely under water. Do not crush the stems. Remove any foliage that will be under water when you make your arrangement.
6. Select a location in the home or office where flowers can be prominently displayed while still having cool temperatures and high relative humidity and a location away from drafts, heat and air-conditioning ducts, and appliances that give off heat. With this kind of care, your flowers should last for 5 - 7 days.
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Ornamental grasses are popular in the home landscape. In addition to their graceful beauty, ornamental grasses have the ability to handle both the drought and wet years, and the continuous freezing and thawing of soils.
Ornamental grasses range in height from 6 inches to 14 or more feet. They can be used as accent plants, ground covers, screens, border edgings, or planted along with flowering plants. Foliage color during the growing season ranges from shades of green to blue-green to blue to red to brown and variegated. Flowers vary in form, size, color and bloom time. Flowers and dried foliage provide a new dimension to the winter garden as they gracefully sway in the wind.
An OSU Extension factsheet Ornamental Grasses provides more information.
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Tips for Healthy Houseplants
Your plants' health begins with plant selection and continues with proper care that will ensure your plants' environmental needs are being met. These two broad strategies will prevent or control most pest and disease problems. If all else fails, you may need to discard a plant or else consider some stronger medicine. However, pesticides should be the last resort. They may eliminate the pest for the time being but do nothing to remedy the underlying environmental stresses that made the plant susceptible to the problem in the first place.
The following ten tips are designed to help keep your houseplants healthy:
1. Select plant species that are not prone to problems.
2. Be cautious about where you buy new plants. The most effective pest management strategy is prevention. Buy only pest-free plants.
3. Closely examine your new plants and keep them away from your other plant collections for two to three weeks to be sure not to contaminate them with problems.
4. Make sure that the pests aren't brought in from outside by you or anyone else who comes into contact with outdoor plants.
5. Always work with clean hands and clean equipment. Periodically change, clean or disinfect all your gardening tools.
6. When watering, avoid splashing water from plant to plant and avoid touching plants with water breakers or hose extensions whenever possible.
7. Isolate moderately and heavily infested plants. Keep the plants quarantined for one month after the last treatment and be sure to check the roots for problems.
8. Improve the vigor of plants by improving root health. You can do this by loosening soil if compacted or repot the plant. Increase the amount of light provided for the plant if you suspect this could be a problem.
9. Increase humidity; avoid hot, dry areas, and reduce fertilizer rates.
10. If you use pesticides, read and follow the labels exactly.
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Tender, summer-flowering bulbs are of tropical origins and cannot survive the cold winters of the Midwest. Tuberous begonias, cannas, caladiums, dahlias, and gladioli are all common tender plants that must be dug and the roots stored over winter. Most require cool (50-60 degrees F), dry conditions and may be potted in dry soil or peat moss.
Now is a good time to check these stored roots for rot, shriveling, or excess moisture. Any damaged material should be discarded. It may be necessary to modify the storage conditions if an excessive number of roots have been damaged.
For more information, see OSU Extension factsheet Summer Flowering Bulbs, # HYG-1244-92 .
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Forcing Branches to Bloom Indoors
Brighten up your home and office this Winter with a touch of Spring by forcing landscape branches to bloom indoors. Some of the easiest branches to force are: Forsythia, Pussy Willow, Honeysuckle, Crabapple, Redbud, Magnolia and the Flowering Dogwood.
Spring-flowering trees and shrubs set their flower buds the previous fall and once the buds have been exposed to cold for several weeks (usually by mid-January), branches can be cut and forced to bloom indoors. Buds will usually take from one to five weeks to open, depending on the plant you choose. Of course the closer to the natural blooming time you try to force the blooms, the shorter the wait.
When selecting branches, treat the plant as you would when you are pruning by cutting a branch just above a side bud, being careful not to leave a stub. Choose branches from crowded spots or other areas where they will not be missed.
Cut branches with lots of flower buds on them. Flower buds are usually larger and fatter than leaf buds. Use a sharp knife or pruners to make your cuts, recut the stems just before placing them in water.
Place the branch ends in hot water to cover no more than 3 inches of the stem. Allow to stand about one-half hour, then fill the container with cool water. If the temperatures are below freezing when you cut the branches, immerse the stems in cool water for several hours to prevent the buds from opening too soon. Flowers will last longer if kept in a cool location of 60-65 degrees away from direct sunlight. Be sure to keep the container filled with water.
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Reusing Plastic Pots
Plastic containers can be safely reused if a few single precautions are taken. The most important seedling disease-causing bacteria and fungi are common inhabitants of soil and can be spread with soil particles. Old soil clinging to pots can harbor these microbes, resulting in poor seed germination or damping off of seedlings. Plant debris, such as old roots or leaves, can also carry these pathogens.
To guard against spreading plant diseases, wash pots and flats with soap and water. Use a stiff scrub brush if necessary. Because microbes can survive on particles that are too small to seed with the naked eye, soaking the pots and flats in a solution of household bleach is recommended.
Make up a solution of 1 part bleach and 9 parts water and soak the pots and flats in it for 30 minutes. The pots and flats must be completely free of soil and totally immersed in the liquid for best results. Rinse the containers thoroughly to remove the bleach residues. Containers can then be stored in an area free of dirt.
This was adapted from Purdue University Extension's Down the Garden Path newsletter.
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As you are planning and planting for the summer season, remember it is a great time to enjoy loud, colorful flower splashes in your garden. What better plants to use than summer bulbs? They will return year after year with brilliant color displays great for cutting or just enjoying in the garden.
Plants commonly referred to as summer bulbs usually have an underground storage structure, such as bulbs, corms, rhizomes, and tuberous roots. All of these structures function to store food through the winter to boost plant emergence and provide the flowering structure the following season.
You can find summer flowering bulbs in stores in the early spring. They should be planted at the time you buy them. And, they should be dug up in the fall when they are dormant. When dug in the fall, allow the bulbs to air dry for one to two days and store them in a cool, dry place for planting next spring.
There are many summer bulbs from which to chose: Lilies thrive in full sun to partial shade. Lilies make great cut flowers and provide gorgeous color shows during most of the summer season. Daylilies make bright color displays in mid- to late summer. Iris usually flower during the first part of summer. Unusual purple, yellow, and white combinations make the flowers distinctive. Dahlias are summer flowering tubers that offer a great deal of variety in the garden. They thrive in full sun or partial shade and prefer moist, well-drained soil. Their many brilliant and rich colors make striking displays that provide an excellent garden backdrop. Gladiolus corms offer a more linear aspect to your garden with their long flower spikes. Cannas provide a tropical look.
For more information, see OSU Extension factsheet Summer Flowering Bulbs.
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Ideal Garden Soil
Gardening references always advise that a loamy garden soil is best for practically all plants. Just what is loamy-textured soil, and what do we do if our garden was not blessed with it? A loamy soil combines all 3 of the major classifications of soil particles - sand, silt, and clay - in about equal parts. Sand particles are the largest, allowing for good aeration, but drying out quickly, and difficult to maintain at a high fertility level. Clay particles are very small and tend to pack down, drain poorly, and allow little or no air penetration. Silt particles are medium-sized and have properties between those of sand and clay.
Whether your garden soil is too sandy or too clayey, the remedy lies in the addition of organic matter, such as compost, animal manure, or growing and turning under cover crops, such as winter rye, hairy vetch or buckwheat. Organic matter increases the water- and nutrient-holding capacity of sand, as well as improving drainage and aeration of clay. Keep in mind that soil improvement is not a one-shot deal, but part of a sound gardening program.
Sources: "Improving Soils for Vegetable Gardening" and "Possum in the Pawpaw Tree" by B.Rosie Lerner & Beverly S. Netzhammer.
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Home Orchard Clean-up
Backyard fruit growers who are reluctant to spray pesticides on their fruit trees, brambles, grapes or strawberries have one big advantage over large-scale commercial growers: small is easier to keep clean. Orchard sanitation is a very important practice, especially when it comes to managing fruit diseases. It can be quite impractical for a commercial orchardist to clean up plant debris and fallen fruit from the ground, or mummified fruit from plants. Not so for the small grower.
Many fruit diseases overwinter in plant debris and fruit mummies. While removing this debris may not eliminate the disease organism altogether, it can go a long way toward reducing the amount of inoculum. Among the fruit diseases for which sanitation is an important practice is bitter rot, black rot and botrytis bunch rot of grapes, black rot of apple, cherry leaf spot, and botrytis fruit rot of strawberry, raspberry and blackberry. If you didn't clean up your planting last fall, it's not too late. A late winter or early spring clean-up is just as effective.
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The green lacewing is an insect predator, available as a biological control of aphids and other soft-bodies pests in your garden. The voracious larvae are sometimes called aphid lions, but will eat just about anything they can subdue and suck dry with their large, piercing mandibles.
Green lacewings are sold as eggs or larvae. Larvae are costly, but may be a better value, since they may survive shipment better, and because other predators often eat a great portion of lacewing eggs. Sprinkle the eggs or larvae near a serious infestation of a pest. The larvae will feed in the area as long as there is plenty of prey, and then the population will disperse.
Adult lacewings are pollen feeders. Their presence can be encouraged by having a diverse planting of flowering plants with garden vegetables, and by keeping the use of chemical pesticides to a minimum.
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