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

 

Ten Lessons Learned

By Kathryn Hamilton EMGV

As master gardeners, we learn things. But we don’t learn everything, and because we are human, we often forget what we learn or think we are so smart that we are smarter than what we learned. I find each growing season to be a lesson in humility, but also an opportunity to learn … sometimes it’s something I knew, sometimes it’s relearning what I’ve learned. Here are 10 things I’ve learned or relearned in 2018.

  1. You can start tomatoes too early. Last year, I started my tomato seeds on Christmas day. In a sense it was a gift to myself, but I was also determined to have the biggest, strongest tomatoes to put into my garden in May. Although I planted, and transplanted, and have a south-facing location for them, I got leggy tomatoes that didn’t necessarily grow into the big, bad boys I’d hoped for, and I didn’t really get a jump on the season.
  2. Take the time to keep track of what you’ve planted. Last year, I planted two different kinds of cucumbers. General Lee, which is recommended for the South, and Tokiwa, “Tokyo Green” which was researched by a friend of mine. By the time I had gotten my “started-too-early” plants to the garden, I’d lost the markers and decided I’d be able to tell which cuke was which. Fat chance. Too bad, because one of them produced fantastic, sweet cucumbers well into August. I’ll have to try again this year.
  3. Plants need water to thrive. My first home had a well, which continues to make me inordinately careful about how much water I use, even though today I have city water. Someplace in the middle of last summer I realized I could capture the condensation from my air conditioning unit which gave me 10 “free” gallons of water a day. (Rain water collection is not permitted here.) After watering my rose bushes, my trees, my hydrangeas, and cleaning my patio, I began to toss the excess water onto my gardenias. Although they had been planted in the right location in terms of sunlight and we had quite a bit of rain, in three years, they hadn’t really blossomed, and I didn’t have the time to figure out why. Suddenly with regular water, I had flowers. Said a friend: “They were using whatever water they had to survive, they didn’t have enough to bloom.” And he wasn’t a master gardener.
  4. It’s not necessarily wise to be greedy. I had
    small veggies tiny but tasty december 30 harvst
    Even though they were small, I chose to harvest these at the end of December rather than try my luck for “even bigger” produce. Photo Kathryn Hamilton

    four beautiful heads of red sail lettuce and refused to pick the outer leaves in quest of the biggest head I could grow. In the end all four matured at the same time and were on the verge of bolting. Yes, I had some heads to share with my neighbors, but I also missed those fresh leaves every day and was forced into several days of red leaf lettuce salad. Not necessarily a bad thing … but I could have enjoyed it all season

  5. Know when it’s time to “fold ‘em.” A plant that’s at the end of its life and is literally hanging on by a few thready stems isn’t going to produce any good fruit. Doesn’t matter that there’s an heirloom tomato “on the vine.” Still not going to taste very good.  I had a similar story with eggplants. Rather than pick them mid-sized, I pushed them to the max and had seeds.
  6. DO NOT over-plant your tomatoes. I know VERY experienced gardeners who still do this. The tomatoes will compete for food, water, and air. You are not likely to have a bumper crop.
  7. Plant your spinach in a hurricane. Spinach is one of those crops that has thwarted me at every turn. No matter what I do, I can’t get this vegetable to start from seeds. This past summer out of desperation, I threw a bunch of seeds into a planter during the hurricane. Within a handful of days (poor record-keeping again), I had spinach. At first I thought it was the wet, wet, wet conditions. But other spinach seeds sown under the same wet conditions went nowhere. I haven’t done a full set of experiments on this, but I’m thinking it’s a combination of wet and warm that helps the seeds jump start. The conundrum around starting spinach seeds in the summer is that they like cool growing weather. I’m sure we ate the spinach that sprouted … but then again, no records.
  8. Start your lettuce on sponges under lights.
    small-lettuce-9-days
    Cutting the sponges into smaller sections allows you to start a variety of seeds in a small space. Growing here: Two romaines and a red. Photo: Kathryn Hamilton

     

    Starting lettuce from seeds has been another stumbling block for me. One day I decided to experiment by growing them on a sponge. I put the soaked sponge in a cleaned out (10% Clorox solution) plastic domed container (you can often get them when you buy cooked chicken at the super market but be SURE to sanitize them). Under grow lights (no heat on the bottom), I’ve seen the lettuce sprout in 2 – 3 days, compared to “never” before. This lettuce is nine days old. I also buy new sponges whenever I grow lettuce. If they are thick I cut them in half lengthwise so they are not so deep. If I’m planting several varieties at once, I cut the sponges into little cubes, one for each variety. A friend, who is not a master gardener but owns a garden shop, says he mixes his seed with packaged cow manure and broadcasts it. In addition to providing nutrition, he says the cow manure also holds moisture.

  9. Pay attention to soil temperature. Even if against all conventional wisdom, you start seedlings like peas indoors, without the right soil temperature they will struggle at est. (And don’t forget to water.)
  10. If you get into a battle of wills with Mother Nature, she will likely win. I have a history of trying to grow things in the wrong spot … simply because I wanted to them to go there. Of course, I had minimal luck at best. How rewarding to know that the gardener’s mantra: “the right plant for the right spot” can be a very rewarding rule of thumb. (And don’t forget to water.)

This winter, take time to reflect on your last year of gardening and consider what changes you can make as you begin anew in 2019. Happy New Year!

 

Our Calendar of Events

Did you know that the blog has a calendar function? From our homepage, click on Calendar of Events (see red arrow in the screenshot below) to find out where our volunteers will be available to answer your questions and when you can enjoy an excellent gardening presentation.

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The calendar (below) is a familiar Google Calendar page integrated into the blog.

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You can click on individual events for location, hours, and more information.

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The calendar is frequently updated with lectures, talks and other public events, as well as dates and locations for our Ask a Master Gardener booth.

-Ann Barnes

Refresher For Reflowering Poinsettias and Long Term Care

By Wendy Diaz, EMGV

If you are like me you probably bought a big beautiful poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) in December for easy and festive home decorating over the holidays.  My poinsettia is doing quite well in my west facing picture window and because it is a relatively easy houseplant to care for I will probably keep it until spring and take it outside until the frost kills it in the fall and buy a new one in November. Nevertheless, a friend asked me how she would go about getting her lovely poinsettia to reflower next Christmas and keep it thriving until then. I decided, for my friend, to do some research and refresh my memory on the reflowering steps, because four years have past since my master garden training on this topic, and write a primer on the care of poinsettias.

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Several poinsettia plants in one pot placed by west-facing window.
Photo by Wendy Diaz, January 9, 2019

The following list of tasks will keep your poinsettia thriving until you want to prepare it to reflower.

Indoor Care of Poinsettia Plant

  1. Place plant in a bright window preferably south, east or west facing and temperatures between 70oF to 75 oF.
  2. Make sure temperature of room does not drop below 55oF.
  3. and avoid cool drafts. (Cover when purchasing them in the winter especially.) Conversely, temperatures about 75 oF cause bract fading and leaf drop.
  4. Water plant when needed, about once per week or when surface of potting soil feels dry (do not let plants dry out or lower leaves will fall). Do not over water because poinsettias do not like “wet feet”. Let them drain well before putting them back in their foil covering if the pot is covered with decorative foil.
  5. Remove the bracts (brightly-colored red modified leaves) when they discolor and wither.
  6. Apply half-strength fertilizer solution monthly.

Poinsettias are tropical plants originally from southern Mexico and Central America and temperatures below 55oF can damage the plants so when the danger of frost has passed, move it outdoors to a location that receives high indirect light (morning sun/afternoon shade). Then, if you have the dedication to get it to reflower you must complete the process of artificially lengthening its daily exposure to darkness for about a couple of months in the fall. The poinsettia is sensitive to the duration of light (day length) and it is a “short-day” plant whereby the shorter length of time the plant is exposed to light within a 24-hour period triggers physiological response of flowering. The sensitivity to day length is called photoperiodism. Figure 18-23 from the Master Gardener handbook shows the affect of only green foliage on poinsettias that are exposed to too much daily sunlight (less than 8 hours of darkness) during the fall period.

17-figure_18-26_photoperiod-ld_vs
Figure 18–23 from the North Carolina Extension Gardener Handbook Photoperiod demonstration on Poinsettia ‘Prestige Red’. Short Day exposure (right): More than 12 hours of darkness in a 24-hour period. Long Day exposure (left): Less than 8 hours of darkness in a 24-hour period2. Photo credit Diane Mays  CC BY – 2.0

 

 

 

 

 

Steps for Poinsettia Reflowering

  1. Place plant outdoors in high indirect light after danger of frost.
  2. Cut back the stems to 3 to 4 inches to promote new growth and encourage branching.
  3. Water and fertilize as in indoor care.
  4. Bring plant indoors when night temperatures fall below 60oF (near the end of September for Durham).
  5. On October 1, 2019, put the plant in 14 hours of uninterrupted darkness each day until bract color is well developed about mid- to late November. Put it in a closet of place a cardboard box over it. Any light during this time will delay flowering. See Figure below for affects.
  6. Night temperatures should be 60 to 70oF.
  7. Place poinsettia in maximum sunlight each day for 10 hours.
  8. Water the plants as needed for medium soil moisture.
  9. Fertilize every other week with a complete-analysis (20-10-20), water soluble fertilizer
  10. Plants should bloom (red bracts) after 9 to 11 weeks of short day/long night treatment.

I wish my friend and other intrepid houseplant gardeners success in reflowering their 2018 Holiday Poinsettia but as an outdoor person and due to lack of closet space, I will continue my tradition of keeping them outside between last frost in April and first frost in October, followed by a trip to a local grower to purchase new poinsettias in late November.  I am looking forward to new and interesting colors each new year brings.

References:

  1. https://poinsettias.ces.ncsu.edu/homeowners/home-growing-poinsettias/
  2. https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/consumer-care-of-poinsettias
  3. https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/extension-gardener-handbook/18-plants-grown-in-containers#section_heading_8773
  4. https://lee.ces.ncsu.edu/2015/12/poinsettias-16/

Further reading:

  1. https://durhammastergardeners.com/2018/02/14/my-poinsettias-survived-the-season-now-what/

Learn With Us, week of January 13

FRUIT AND VEGGIE VARIETIES FOR 2019 – Durham Garden Forum
JAN. 16, 7-8:30 PM, Sarah P. Duke Gardens

Presenter: Craig Mauney, Mountain Horticulture Crops Research and Extension Center, NC Cooperative Extension
Greet the new year with information about new and emerging crops for the home garden. Perhaps expand your garden to include wasabi or upland rice! Craig will also review some exciting new varieties of both fruits and vegetables.

Please note the date has been changed to Wednesday, 1/16 due to a scheduling conflict.

No pre-registration necessary. Lecture fee: free for forum members with $25 annual membership; $10 per meeting for non-members, payable to Durham Garden Forum.

For membership information, email durhamgardenforum@gmail.com