» Archive for January, 2014

In a Word: Mulch!

Saturday, January 25th, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • Spray fruit trees with a dormant oil spray. Spray from the bottom up, including the undersides of limbs and the ground around the tree, to prevent early spring insect infestations.
    • Onion plants can be set out now for early summer harvest.
    • Lilacs and wisteria have beautiful spring flowers. They come in a variety of colors and can be planted now from bare-root plants.
    • Many fine varieties of flowering dogwoods, tulip magnolias, Japanese maples and other specimen plants are now available at nurseries for winter planting.

In a Word: Mulch!

We’re all starting to get a little bit worried about the lack of water coming from the skies. Many questions are arising: is it good to prune my trees? my rosebushes? will my plants survive the drought? what can be done to help them?

In the coming weeks I will try to address these and other questions to help you keep your trees and shrubs, fruit trees and vegetable plants alive and healthy. Let’s start with mulch.

The best way to protect ornamental plants during periods of drought is by applying mulch. Spreading mulch around your plants is, in most situations, simply good gardening. But with the need for water conservation, mulching is a necessity.

Mulches have three primary benefits:
• They reduce evaporation of water from the soil.
• They reduce weeds, which compete with your plants for water, by shading out weed seedlings and inhibiting weed seed germination.
• They insulate soil from extreme temperature changes, keeping the soil cooler during the day and warmer at night.

A good mulch can even encourage worms, which aerate and enrich the soil. You can begin now to mulch around your plants while there is still moisture in the soil.

There are several different choices in mulching materials. Organic mulches are any of the many commonly available materials derived from decaying plant material. They decompose in time and enrich and improve the soil. They include aged sawdust, peat moss, bark, wood chips, composted sludge products, pine needles, leaves and straw. Organic mulches will require periodic additions as the mulch decays.

Studies have shown that two inches of bark covering the soil will reduce moisture loss in summer by 20% and reduce soil temperature in summer, in the upper four inches of soil, by 10°F.

Inorganic mulching materials include black plastic, landscape fabrics and gravel. Landscape fabrics, also known as geo-textiles or weed barriers, comprise a variety of products. They can be used in combination with organic mulch material to maximize the retention of moisture in the soil.

Apply mulch around trees and shrubs 3-4 inches deep to maintain soil moisture. Keep mulch 4-5 inches away from the trunks of trees. Let fallen leaves and pine needles remain under trees to act as a natural mulch.

Also apply mulch around annuals, perennials, vegetable plants, and even in containers. Mulching your pathways helps control weeds and conserves moisture in the soil. Black plastic may be used, or you can utilize grass clippings, straw, wood chips, or garden debris.

Another way of reducing evaporation is by covering plants with shade cloth. Sensitive plants like rhododendrons and azaleas can be covered with 50% shade cloth while more heat tolerant plants may benefit from 30% shade cloth. Position it to block sunlight while not reducing air circulation. In the vegetable garden, cover salad greens with 50% shade cloth and crops like squash and beans with 30% shade.

Mulch trees and shrubs now while the soil is still moist to preserve soil moisture for the plants to use when they begin their spring growth.

Simply Scrumptious Strawberries

Friday, January 17th, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • Asparagus, whose delectable spears are even sweeter when home-grown, are available now for planting. Prepare a fertile bed for these long-lived vegetables.
    • Bare root season is here. Choose and plant your favorite fruit and shade trees now.
    • Roses should be pruned in February near the end of the dormant season. You can clean them up now, however, by removing all the old leaves on and around the plants.
    • Delicious raspberries, blackberries, loganberries, boysenberries and blueberries are all available now for early planting.
    • Tree collards are delicious winter vegetables. Set out plants now.

Simply Scrumptious Strawberries

One thing that you just can’t buy at the store is a juicy, mouthwatering strawberry. Yes, they are big and beautiful but there is no comparison, when it comes to flavor, with fresh-picked, homegrown strawberries.

Strawberries are not hard to grow. Plants produce well for three to five years, then it’s best to compost the old plants, dig a new bed and plant fresh, disease-free roots from the nursery. New plants set out in early spring will give you berries this summer.

Strawberries do best in full sun with loose soil and good drainage. Dig in plenty of compost to make a loose, humus-rich soil. Because they multiply by runners, strawberries can be planted up to 18 inches apart and runners will fill in the gaps. They can also be planted on 8-inch centers to harvest more berries sooner.

When planting, dig a hold deep enough so the roots will not be bent, and make a cone-shaped pile of soil in the bottom. Arrange the roots over the soil cone and gently fill the hole with loose soil. It is most important to set the plants at the right height so that the roots are covered but the crown, where the leaves come out, is above the soil line.

Strawberries are divided into three types: Junebearers, everbearers, and day-neutrals. Junebearers produce a single large crop over 3-4 weeks in early summer. If you want to freeze lots of fruit at one time, plant Junebearers.

‘Sequoia’ is the earliest variety and the sweetest, with exceptional taste, productivity and pest resistance. ‘Chandler’ strawberry plants are very popular with commercial growers because of their high yield, brilliant fruit color, and excellent flavor.

Everbearers produce throughout the summer and give you berries for fresh eating all season. They produce fewer runners than Junebearers and so are easier to control.

‘Quinault’ is a great tasting, heavy bearing everbearer that gives high yields of large, deep red, sweet fruit from spring through fall. They are delicious for desserts, preserves and fresh eating. Plants are also very disease-resistant.

Day-neutrals are unaffected by day length and so they bear fruit from June through frost. Unfortunately they require pampering. They are sensitive to drought and weed competition. If you give them the care they need, they will reward you with a generous supply of berries throughout the season from relatively few plants.

‘Tristar’ bears a constant supply of delicious medium sized berries, that are sweet and juicy, throughout the season. ‘Tristar’ has been known to set fruit from June until frost. They flower profusely but make few runners, so they stay compact. ‘Seascape’ is a heavy bearer of high quality, very sweet round berries. Contrary to their name, they grow and fruit well in hot dry climates.

Whether it’s strawberry shortcake, strawberry pie or just red ripe strawberries that you love, there are none better than the home-grown kind.

Flavorful, Fresh Fruits

Friday, January 10th, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • Bare root fruit trees are now available. Choose one tree or a whole orchard and get them planted while the soil is good for digging.
    • Blueberries are a delicious fruit that can be planted now from young plants. Give them a rich, acid bed prepared with lots of peat moss.
    • Start seeds of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and other cool season crops indoors for planting outside in March.
    • Prune fruit trees, grapes, berries, and ornamental trees this month. Take in a pruning class and sharpen your shears before you start.
    • Start off the new year with a new house plant to brighten your indoor spaces. Choose from many fine varieties now.

Flavorful, Fresh Fruits

Each year the list of mouth-watering summer fruits grows longer with new hybrids introduced and sometimes antique varieties making a comeback. Home grown fruit is becoming increasingly popular as we learn the benefits of local food production.

Discovering new flavors and even new fruits can be an exciting taste experience. Here are some varieties that may be new to you.

After nearly disappearing from the marketplace, apple varieties that were popular decades or even centuries ago are making a come-back. These varieties, known as antique or heirloom apples, number in the thousands and carry names such as Sheepnose, American Mother, Lady Sweet and Nickajack.

A couple of antique apples that you can find right here are Spitzenburg and York Imperial. Spitzenburg is regarded by some connoisseurs as the very best dessert apple. It has red over yellow skin, yellowish flesh, and is firm, juicy and moderately sweet, with renowned flavor. It ripens in late October here and is a good keeper.

York Imperial is one of the very best apples for keeping: in a cool location, it holds its flavor until April or May. It has a fine quality for dessert use, and is excellent for baking and cider. It may have a light red blush or be nearly fully red. It is a firm apple with coarse, yellow flesh that is crisp and juicy with a semi-sweet flavor. It is harvested late in the season.

A fun and productive way to grow apple trees is called espalier, in which the branches are trained to grow flat against a wall or fence supported by a framework or trellis. They are excellent space savers perfect for small gardens, producing more fruit in less space than conventional trees. This practice dates back to the Romans, but now you can buy an apple tree already started as an espalier with four different varieties of apples grafted onto it.

Another unique shape for apple trees is the columnar apple tree. With a compact, upright, narrow growth habit (they mature to be about 7-8′ tall and 2-3′ wide) they are perfect for planting in small yards and gardens or growing in containers on balconies and patios. Two varieties, which pollinate each other, are Northpole and Scarlet Sentinel. Northpole has large, red-skinned McIntosh-type fruit that is crisp and juicy. Scarlet Sentinel has dense clusters of white blossoms followed by large, delicious, red-blushed, greenish-yellow fruit.

Interspecific hybrids are an entirely unique type of fruit. They are complex hybrids of plums, apricots, peaches, cherries and nectarines in varying combinations and proportions that are in no way genetically modified. Of the plum/apricot crosses, Pluots and Plumcots have more plum than apricot parentage while Apriums are more apricot than plum.

Tri-Lite is a peach/plum cross. This white-fleshed peach crossed with a plum has a mild, classic white peach flavor and finishes with a wonderful plum aftertaste.

Sweet Treat Pluerry is a cross between a plum and a sweet cherry, with the size of a plum. It is extremely sweet when fully ripe, and will hang on the tree for over a month, getting sweeter and sweeter. Burgundy plum is recommended as a pollenizer.

Burgundy Plum has medium-sized fruit with flesh that is deep red, mellow, and sweet covered with a reddish purple skin. An all around great plum, it is good for fresh eating, cooking, drying and in jams and jellies, and it is self-fertile.

Now is the time to plant fruit trees of all kinds from bare-root trees available at local nurseries. Be sure to add some of these tasty varieties to your orchard.