» Archive for April, 2013

Azaleas for Spring

Friday, April 12th, 2013 by Jenny Watts
    • Plant sunflowers now from seed. Choose either the multi-stemmed kinds for cut flowers or the giants for edible seeds.
    • Prepare for planting season! Turn in cover crops and do a soil test if your garden had trouble last year.
    • Plant lawns now from seed. Reseed established lawns to fill in bare patches.
    • Attract birds to your yard with bird feeders. Delightful gold finches will be happy to visit your thistle feeders, and rufous-sided tohees will visit seed feeders.
    • Asparagus, artichokes and rhubarb are perennial vegetables that can be planted now.

Azaleas for Spring

Some of our loveliest spring flowers bloom on compact plants called azaleas. These garden gems are evergreen and easy to grow given the right conditions. They bloom reliably every spring and live for many years in gardens or in containers.

Azaleas are attractive shrubs for areas that receive partial shade, or filtered shade all day. They cover themselves with beautiful flowers each spring and are good-looking all year as a small border shrub. Plant them with rhododendrons, Lily of the Valley shrub (Pieris japonica), Japanese Snowball bush (Viburnum plicatum) or Japanese maples for a harmonious garden design.

Azaleas are fairly hardy plants, however they have a reputation for being difficult to grow. Most azalea deaths occur from faulty planting. In their native habitats they are found growing in loose, porous soils. So it is best to plant azaleas in a well-drained site with cool, moist, acidic soil.

The planting hole should be 18 to 24 inches wide but only as deep as the root ball. Use peat moss, planting mix, or ground bark to amend the soil up to 50%. Plant the azalea higher than the surrounding ground level and build up to the sides with the soil mixture. One of the quickest ways to kill an azalea is to bury the plant by putting soil on top of the root ball. The surface of the root ball should still be showing when you are done planting.

Too much fertilizer will also kill an azalea. These plants have tender fibrous roots which are easily burned by high-nitrogen fertilizers. Use a non- burning organic fertilizer like cottonseed meal or a chemical fertilizer labeled for azaleas once a month in April, May and June. Then switch to a 0-10-10 fertilizer for the months of July, August and September.

Azaleas are often the victims of overwatering. Water the plants as you would any other plant to get them established, and then check the soil to keep it moist but not soggy wet. If kept too wet, or grown in poorly drained soils, azaleas can be killed by root rot fungi. The leaves will wilt and then dry up on the plant.

Not all azaleas are hardy to the cold temperatures in our area, but there are varieties that can take temperatures down to 5°F. Look for names like Kurume and Satsuki to be sure you are buying a cold-hardy plant. Belgian Indicas and Southern Indicas will grow where temperatures don’t fall below 20°F. Below that the bark will split and the plants will die.

Kurume azaleas have very dense foliage and small flowers that completely cover the plants in spring. They come in all shades of red, pink, lavender, purple and white. Satsuki azaleas have a looser form and large flowers in white, pink or red that are sometimes striped or have multiple colors on one plant.

With a carefully chosen plant and proper planting and care, azaleas will live for many years, in the landscape or in containers, showing off their colorful flowers each spring.

Flowering Pear Trees

Friday, April 5th, 2013 by Jenny Watts
    • Plant sweet peas for bouquets of delightful blooms.
    • Lily of the valley is a sweet, shade-loving perennial that can be planted now from “pips” available at the nursery.
    • Forsythia, with its bright yellow flowers, is one of the first shrubs to bloom in the spring. Plant one in a sunny spot where you can enjoy its cheery flowers.
    • Potatoes can be planted any time now. Choose from red, white, yellow and blue varieties.

Clouds of White: Flowering Pear Trees

Some of the first trees to bloom in the spring are the flowering pears. Clusters of snowy white pear blossoms cover the trees for several weeks as they announce the coming of spring. Tall and stately, these ornamental trees offer beauty throughout the growing season.

The best known ornamental pear is the ‘Bradford’ Pear, a cultivar which traces its roots back to Korea and China. The original seedling tree was brought to this country in 1919. It became popular in the 1960’s and was planted widely as street trees throughout the county. Unfortunately, it was later discovered that the angle of the Bradford’s branches is generally too narrow and an unpruned tree develops tightly-crowded branches which make the tree susceptible to damage from strong storms and snow loads.

As a result, new varieties have been developed which correct these weaknesses. Three fine new varieties are ‘Aristocrat’, ‘Chanticleer’ and ‘Redspire’. ‘Aristocrat’ replaces ‘Bradford’ growing to 40 feet tall and 28 feet wide. It is pyramidal in shape with open, spreading branches. The dark green leaves turn deep red in the fall. A fairly narrow, upright tree, ‘Chanticleer’ matures to a pyramidal or oval form up to 35 feet in height and about 15 feet wide. The glossy green leaves make it attractive even when the flowering is over, and in fall the leaves progress through shades of red, yellow and orange before reaching their ultimate burgundy color.

‘Redspire’ is a rounder form reaching 35 feet tall and 25 feet wide. Its flowers are larger than other varieties and the glossy, green foliage becomes a riot of color in the fall, turning red, yellow and orange at the same time.

Ornamental pears are susceptible to fireblight but to a lesser degree than fruiting pears. This disease causes the leaves and branch tips to turn black and look scorched or burned. However disease-resistance has been developed in some of these new varieties. In particular, ‘Chanticleer’ has shown very high resistance to the disease.

Plant ornamental pears in sunny locations where they have room to develop their characteristically symmetrical crowns. Although they adapt to a variety of soils, they perform best in well-drained locations and near-neutral or slightly acid soil. Avoid heavy applications of nitrogen fertilizer. Flowering pears are extremely tolerant of heat, drought, and compacted soil. They will actually produce fruit, but it is very tiny and usually disappears as bird food when the winter flocks come through.

With their spring flowers, glossy summer foliage, and deep fall color these trees are very desirable. They are excellent lawn or street trees. Select a hardy, disease-resistant cultivar with a form to suit your needs, and you will be rewarded with breathtaking bloom and flaming fall colors for years to come.

It’s Potato Planting Time

Friday, April 5th, 2013 by Jenny Watts
    • Tomatoes can be set out with protection. “Season Starter” will protect them down to 20°F and will give them a warm environment during the day so they develop faster.
    • Mouth-watering strawberries should be planted now for delicious berries this summer. Plant them in a sunny, well-drained bed.
    • Spring feeding of trees and shrubs can begin now. Mulch with manure or apply organic or commercial fertilizers.
    • Put up hummingbird feeders this month and enjoy these colorful and entertaining birds.
    • Last chance for asparagus roots this year. Prepare a fertile bed for these long-lived vegetables.

It’s Potato Planting Time

With the first days of spring, potatoes warm up, break dormancy and start growing. It is then time for you to prepare your site for planting.

You can pre-sprout seed potatoes to encourage early growth and development. Spread the tubers in an open box then put them in a warm room where they receive bright indirect sunlight. This will stimulate the growth of strong sprouts that are short and stubby and are not easily broken off. You can begin this process a week or two before you’re ready to plant your potatoes.

If you have large tubers, you should cut them into two to four pieces. Tubers the size of a hen’s egg may be planted whole. For larger tubers, cut the potato so that each piece contains one or more eyes. Be sure there is plenty of flesh around the eyes, since the plant will utilize this stored food during the first 2 or 3 weeks of growth. If the variety has many eyes, try for two or more eyes on each piece.

It is best to let these pieces, or “seeds,” dry overnight before planting. If the soil is wet, dust the cut sides with soil sulfur. If the weather is dry, you can plant the seeds immediately after cutting, without the sulfur dust.

Potatoes need well-drained soil that holds some moisture. Add compost to lighten heavy soils and support beneficial microbes. The soil pH should be 5.0-7.5. A lower pH will reduce the possibility of scab fungus. Also avoid adding lime or wood ashes, which raises soil pH.

To plant, dig trenches about 6 inches deep and 2 feet apart. Place the seed potatoes about 12 inches apart and then cover with 3 or 4 inches of soil. Don’t cover them too deep initially. Leave the extra soil beside the trench for later.

In about two weeks, green leaves will emerge. When the plants are about 8 inches high, gently pull the soil in around the plants leaving about 3 inches exposed. Potatoes develop in the soil above the seed potato, so as the potatoes grow, cover with more soil until you have barely covered the tops of the plants and have built up a ridge about 4 inches higher than ground level.

Some gardeners like to plant potatoes under mulch, typically straw. To do this, till the soil then push each seed into the ground until the top of the piece is at ground level. Then cover with 18 inches of mulch. Water occasionally but not too much.

You can also grow potatoes in vertical boxes or cages. Plant seed pieces 6-8 inches apart and cover with 4 inches of soil. As the plants grow, continue covering them until they stop growing, leaving 6 inches of plant exposed. This is a great way to grow a lot of potatoes in a limited space.

You can also grow potatoes in raised beds or even bags of various sorts. Remember that the ultimate depth of the seed will determine the amount of yield.

Choose seed potatoes now at local nurseries and have fun growing potatoes!