April To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Hallelujah it is APRIL!! Real Spring is here. Statistical frost-free date is April 11. Get them tomato plants ready!! I mean if the seed packet says 65 days and you started the seeds in mid-February then you should be enjoying that first ‘mater sammich about Easter this year. Right? Well, maybe that’s pushing it a bit, but definitely by Mother’s Day. So, here’s a bunch of stuff to do while you are waiting for the tomatoes.

Lawn Care
This is the first month you may fertilize warm season grasses (i.e. Bermuda, centipede and zoysia) as they should be breaking dormancy soon. DO NOT fertilize cool season grasses again until fall.

Mow fescue and bluegrass at a height of three to four inches.

This is your last chance to put out pre-emergent crabgrass control. The deadline is when the dogwoods bloom. After that, the seeds will have germinated and pre-emergent by definition will no longer be a viable option.

Fertilizing 

  • See “Lawn Care.”
  • Fertilize any shrubbery that didn’t get fed in March.

Planting
Is this what everybody’s been waiting for, or what? By mid-month it is crazy time in the garden(s).

In the veggie garden sow, sow, sow. Melons, squashes, beans, cucumbers, pumpkins, peppers, tomatoes and corn. Presumably you have already amended the soil per your SOIL TEST recommendations. Be sure to plant enough to share with someone who might not have any at all.

Warm season grasses can be planted by the end of the month. Seeding is possible, though not recommended. Plugging and sodding are the better options with warm season grasses. Check out NC State Turf Files for detailed information on all lawn turf types.

Pruning

bloom-blossom-blue-sky-1505004
Flowering cherry tree photo by Carissa Rogers from pexels.com
  • Remove any winter damage from shrubs and trees.
  • Wait to prune spring flowering shrubs [I.e. azalea (Rhododendron x hybrid), lilac (Syringa species), forsythia, spiraea, wiegelia, etc.] until after the blooms fade.
  • Prune fruiting shrubs [i.e. holly (Ilex species) and pyracantha] while they are in bloom to avoid removing all of this year’s berries.
  • If necessary, prune spring flowering trees [i.e. Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’), flowering cherry (Prunus hybrids), redbud (Cercis species)].

Spraying

  • ALWAYS check plants for pests before spraying (except for borers which you won’t be able to see).
  • Be on the lookout for the following insect pests: azalea lacebugs, boxwood leaf miners, euonymus scale, hemlock & juniper-spruce spider mites. Spray only as needed following label instructions.
  • Spray iris beds for iris borers.
  • Treat cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) for worms. An organic product containing BT is a good green choice.
  • Spray squash plants near the base of the stem at first bloom to control squash vine borers. Continue this procedure weekly until June 1 using only an appropriate insecticide.
  • Spray apple and pear trees while in bloom with streptomycin to control fire blight. Use two applications: one at early bloom and a second at full bloom. If we have a rainy spring consider a third application.
  • Begin weekly applications of fungicide on bunch grapes.
  • Continue a rose spray program (forever and ever).
  • Begin weekly fruit tree spraying after the flower petals fall off.

Other Exciting Things (or not) to Keep You Happily Outside in the Glorious Spring Weather
Mulch. Mulch, mulch, mulch. The possibility of a hot dry summer always looms large in the Piedmont of North Carolina. Shredded hardwood, pine needles (pine straw), shredded cypress and pine bark in its many guises are all good mulches.

When you are bored or desperate to remain outside to avoid painting the bathroom, dusting the ceiling fans, bathing the cat … whatever, there are and always will be weeds to pull. It is the environmentally sound way to get rid of them and the kids and/or grand kids can help (until they turn 11 at which time the helpfulness gene goes dormant).

It’s Spring y’all.  Go out and enjoy.

Further Reading
https://www.turffiles.ncsu.edu/

 

 

March: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

IT IS MARCH!!! Stuff is blooming. Daffodils are regaling us with their perky yellow

Forsythia-viridissima---houroumono--CC-BY_d4qC3wy
Forsythia-viridissima—houroumono–CC-BY_d4qC3wy

blossoms as is the forsythia. I saw a quince in bloom yesterday. The periwinkle in the backyard is festooned with blue blooms. Well, at least the part that is above water. The saucer magnolia in the front yard is gorgeous although by the time you are reading this it may be a sad mess of frozen yuck. It would really be nice if it would cease raining long enough for us to get out and enjoy all this blooming.

Let’s be optimistic and say that it’s going to stop raining and get seasonably warm, so that getting out in the yard becomes a reality. Here’s your “To Do” list should all that actually occur.

Lawn Care
Cool season grasses (fescue and Kentucky bluegrass) can be fertilized with a non-slow release fertilizer such as 10-10-10. DO NOT fertilize cool season grasses after March 15 and do not use a slow release fertilizer now. Save it for Fall. Fertilizing later than mid-March will increase the likelihood of turf diseases in the heat and humidity of summer.

Apply crabgrass control to all lawns when the forsythia is in bloom and before the dogwoods reach full bloom.

Commence mowing activities when you can do so without losing your mower in the mud. Cool season grasses should be mowed at a height between three and four inches. Warm season grasses are still dormant; their turn will come later. Mowing frequency should be such that you do not remove more than one-third of the growth. Leave the clippings on the lawn to help reduce fertilizer needs by up to 25%.  If circumstances are such that more than one-third has to be cut, collect the clippings and use them as mulch. Grass clippings DO NOT belong in the landfill.

Fertilizing
Feed your shrubbery remembering “moderation in all things.”

Shade trees can be fertilized now, however unless you have poor soil (as indicated by your soil test) these plants can usually fend for themselves.

Emerging flowering bulbs can be fertilized now.

Fertilize asparagus beds early in March before the spears emerge.

Planting
This entire section is based on the rain stopping and the ground not refreezing and actually drying out (whatever that means; I’ve forgotten.)

Trees and shrubs can be transplanted now as well as fruit trees and grapevines up to bud break. Plants planted now will require more diligent water management through the summer than ones planted last fall.

Perennials can be planted now.

Start annuals and warm season vegetables inside if you haven’t already. (I know about you first tomato freaks.)

Rose bushes can be planted now.

Cruciferous vegetables (e.g., cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower) can be set out in the garden in the middle of the month.

Root veggies (e.g., potatoes, beets, turnips, carrots) can be planted in March as well as salad greens (e.g., lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, kohlrabi and bok choy) can also be planted in mid-March.

Pruning
Prune fruit trees.

Deadhead spring flowering annuals like pansies (Viola x hybrids) as the blossoms fade to prolong flowering.

Roses can be pruned in the latter half of the month.

Overgrown broadleaf shrubs can still be severely whacked.

Spraying
Check for the following insect pests: euonymus scale, juniper-spruce spider mites, hybrid rhododendron borers. Spray as necessary following label directions.

Apply dormant oil to fruit trees to eliminate several insects. This is especially important if you have just pruned the trees.

Spray apple and pear trees in bloom with streptomycin to prevent fire blight.

Stuff to do to get ready for prime time
Check all your gardening equipment to ensure proper working order. You don’t want to spend the first really great gardening day running around looking for parts for your broken garden gizmo.

Think about experimenting with new varieties of annuals, perennials and veggies. Experimenting is fun and has few lasting side effects.

Plant a tree in honor of Arbor Day!  In North Carolina it is celebrated March 22.  https://www.ncforestservice.gov/Urban/nc_arbor_day.htm

 

Photo credit:  Forsythia-viridissima—houroumono–CC-BY_d4qC3wy, https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/all/forsythia-viridissima/


To Do in February

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

It’s February!! Those of us who are die-hard just-can’t-help-ourselves gardeners are

bluebird and box
male eastern bluebird and bluebird box. photo credit: Patricia Pierce on Flickr

nearly beside ourselves—right? I mean, we can do stuff! We can dig in the dirt (well, at least the dirt that isn’t moisture-saturated or frozen)! YEA!! Besides, it is almost March when we really get to do stuff. In addition to breaking out the shovels, rakes and hoes the chem-heads out there can start spraying and fertilizing. So, here goes. A prelude to Spring in the key of D# major.

Lawn Care
Cool season grasses (i.e. fescue and bluegrass) should be fertilized with a slow-release fertilizer following the recommendation of your SOIL TEST.

Late February/early March is the best time to apply a pre-emergent crabgrass preventer. There are several easy to use granular products on the market. Be sure to read and follow the directions on the label for safe and proper handling and application. Calibrate your spreader to ensure accurate application amounts; Too little will not give you effective control and too much may damage the turf.

Fertilizing
See Lawn Care above and Planting below.

Planting
And so it begins: The vegetable garden. The reason for some gardeners’ existence, for frozen fingers in February, summer sunburn and the endless supply of liniment in the medicine cabinet.

It is time for root vegetables and salad (and beef Bourguignon—which you can’t grow in the garden).  Plants that can go in the ground in February include cabbage, carrots, leaf lettuce, onions, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, spinach and turnips. Work a little fertilizer into the soil that was tested in October (while it was still free to do so) following the recommendations of said SOIL TEST.

Be cognizant of soil moisture levels. It appears that Mother Nature is going to maintain that for now, but she can be really fickle.

Pruning
If you have been ignoring previous posts, now would be a good time to prune bunch grapes and fruit trees. Also due for judicious trimming are summer flowering shrubs and small trees.  That list includes Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus seriatcus) crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia species), butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), and hydrangeas that bloom on new wood (Hydrangea arborescens & H. paniculata).

While you’re out there, whack back the ornamental grasses, too. The new blades haven’t emerged yet and the plants are looking a bit tired anyway.

Got some overgrown shrubs that you’ve been meaning to (or reluctant to) prune heavily? Go for it now.  I understand that if you’ve never done it before it can be a bit intimidating, trust me. The plant will almost always not only survive, but thrive. I am aware of the never-more-than-a-third rule, but sometimes that is not enough. If it needs to go back to 12”-18” … go for it.  Chances are, you and the plant will be glad you did.

Spraying
The orchard needs attention. Peaches and nectarines should be sprayed with a fungicide to prevent leaf curl. Spraying a dormant oil on the fruit trees will help control several insects later in the year.

Other fun stuff to do outside in February
– Perennials can be divided if the soil ever gets dry enough.

– Many landscape plants can be propagated via hardwood cuttings this time of the year.  Some of the plants in the category are crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia sps), flowering quince (Chaenomoles sps), junipers (Juniperus sps), spiraea (Spiraea sps) and weigelia (Weigelia sps).

– Bluebirds will be most appreciative of a thorough house cleaning before the spring nesting season. Remove all the old nesting materials and let them start afresh. It’s like clean linens for them.

Oh, yeah. Lest we forget … order flowers or other living things from the plant kingdom for your significant other. Just for the record, guys like flowers and plants, too. Happy Valentine’s Day y’all! Think positive thoughts about an early Spring and no late freezes.

 

Photo credit
Creative commons, copyright Patricia Pierce,  https://www.flickr.com/photos/47602497@N06/26758856348

 

To Do in January

Happy New Year, y’all!!  Let’s garden! Well, let’s plan to garden. From the looks of the recent weather forecasts (past, present and future), it would appear to be a great year to plant cattails, rice and water lilies. Claude Monet would be pleased. Maybe this is the year to seriously consider a rain garden. There are usually two or three local hands-on workshops on this very topic. In the meantime, here’s what to do until we can get back to playing in the dirt.

Lawn Care
Continue trying to keep the leaves from accumulating on the turf.

Think about how you could change your landscape to eliminate some (or all) of your grass. It is after all the most expensive planting in the yard and the most ecologically unsustainable. Just sayin’.

Fertilizing
Not much here either unless you need a place to dump wood ashes. You can spread them on the veggie garden, bulb beds, or non-acid loving shrub beds if the pH is low, <6.0.

Planting
See introductory paragraph. Should the soil dry out enough to actually be workable, asparagus crowns can be planted now.

Pruning
Sharpen those hand pruners and loppers and go to work! Here’s your get-out-of-the-house excuse.  Studies have shown that January pruning cuts heal more rapidly than those made in other months. So, take down those branches overhanging the house and the ones that shade that corner of the garden.  Cut back those misshapen or overgrown shrubs.

Please prune the branches individually to shape the plant. Unless you are trying to recreate Buckingham or Versailles Palaces, leave the power hedge clippers where they are. Shearing is not the best thing you can do for a plant. However, if you must shear, be sure the finished product is wider at the base than at the top. This allows sunlight to reach the lower leaves and will keep the plant looking full from top to bottom.

When pruning entire branches of anything make the cut at the outside of the branch collar (flared area at the branch origin).

Spraying
Spray only if the plants you brought indoors for the winter brought unwanted guests with them. Light horticultural oils or insecticidal soap should be safe and effective treatments. If you can run them outside on a warmish dryish day so much the better. READ THE LABEL!

How to stay warm and dry ‘til March without incurring cabin fever induced insanity.
The warm part usually isn’t too difficult. Wear warm clothes while you prune and plan. Or when it is just too gross to go outside delve into those seed catalogs (some more), break out the Kindle (or a real book) and I recommend a hot beverage of your choosing.

The dry part might present a major challenge this winter. Many of us are no longer spry enough to actually dodge the raindrops. For those of us who are fashion-challenged anyway, a full rain suit (preferably in bright yellow) and tall rubber boots will offer shelter from even the worst deluge. For another option see last sentence previous paragraph.

Cheer up! The days are already getting longer and March is just two months away!

— Gary Crispell

 

To Do in December

By Gary Crispell, EMGV

The holidays
Are upon us.
It’s cold enough
To prune the euonymus.

Most of the leaves
Have fallen down
And into the compost,
Raked and blown.

The door is closed
On the potting shed.
Most of the garden
Has been put to bed.

But before the year
Turns over anew,
There are a few more things
Left to do.

Lawn Care

Mow the fescue
One more time.
Remove the leaves
To keep it fine.

Planting

Landscape plants
Can still be planted
There in that space
Where you’ve always wanted.

Pruning

Prune the nandina
And red-berried holly,
Arrange them on the table
To make it look jolly.

Herbaceous perennials
Can still be cut back.
While weeds and “bad” trees
Can be thoroughly wacked.

Spraying

While some think
Spraying is fun,
In the month of December
There should be none.

Other Stuff That is Mostly Fun

The Christmas tree
Really needs water
And will appreciate
Being away from the heater.

To keep your poinsettias
Cheery and bright
Put them in the room
With the sunniest light.

As to your soil recommendations,
Apply the lime.
Save the fert
For the warmer springtime.

If it’s viticulture
Or an orchard you seek,
Order plants now
To plant by March’s second week.

For your strawberries
A sweet straw bed,
Either wheat or pine
A blanket for their heads.

May your holidays
Be blessed and merry
As bright and cheery
As the holly’s berry.

And may next year’s garden
Be like my Grandmother’s,
A bounty for you
And a bounty for others.