Time to Plant Vegetable Gardens

 

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My mom, Karen, and my niece, Mya.

Mother’s Day is coming and is a great time to honor our mothers. I get my interest in horticulture from my mother and so I like to buy her plants for mother’s day gifts. It is not only a holiday for our wonderful moms, but also a great time to get out and start planting our gardens.

Mother’s day is a great date to remember for good timing for planting warm season vegetables outdoors because we have to wait to plant these frost sensitive crops until after the last spring frost has occurred. Warm season crops include: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, zucchini, garden beans, corn, watermelons, cantaloupe, squash, okra, and sweet potatoes.

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When purchasing plants, be sure to look at the root system. The roots are very important to a plant, it is what is used to absorb water and nutrients for growth and production. Pull the plant out of the container it is sold in and look at the root system. If there are a lot of roots along the outside edge of the soil ball for that particular plant, it may be rootbound. When a plant is rootbound, the roots become entangled because the plant has gotten too large for the container it is growing in. Rootbound plants should not be your first choice for planting because these plants often continue to grow with encircling roots and can cause damage and even death in the plants. If a rootbound plant is purchased, be sure to thoroughly break up the root ball to help the plant grow correctly for better health.

Make sure that the garden is located to get at least 6 hours of sunlight per day, but 8-10 hours of sunlight is best. Make sure that it is planted on level ground to ensure uniform watering. Mulch is necessary to a garden for moisture retention and weed reduction for less competition. Good mulches include wood chips, lawn clippings, and newspaper. Vegetable gardens need 1-inch of water per week. The best option for watering is a soaker hose or drip irrigation to reduce the spread of diseases from splashing water.

Vegetable gardens can be planted in containers or in raised beds. Containers that can be used include shoes, pallets, boxes, ceramic containers, whiskey barrels, tires, and cow tanks, in addition to containers bought at a garden center. Just make sure that your container has a drainage hole in the bottom. Container gardening is a great option for people with disabilities that restrict them from traditional gardening or for those living in apartments or rental properties where they have no lawn to dig up to plant into.

Raised beds are another alternative to traditional gardening for those with disabilities or those with poor soils. Raised beds are gardens built up higher than their surrounding soil level. Raised beds can be made without an enclosure as a berm or with an enclosure using items such as landscape timbers or old railroad ties, as long as creosote does not still ooze from them. Raised beds can typically be much larger than a container garden, but should be only as wide as your reach to the center for weeding purposes. This type of gardening would be a good choice for those facing problems with toxicity from black walnut trees.

Veggies collage

However you garden, just enjoy it and plant the crops that you and your family favor most for meals. If you have extra you can always take it to a local farmer’s market to make a few dollars on your extra produce. Gardening is a fun way to grow your own vegetables, to get some exercise and to enjoy nature all at the same time. This is a fun activity for kids of all ages.

Yard and Garden: April 15, 2016

Yard & Garden for blogThis is the Q&A for the Yard and Garden show for April 15, 2016. Yard and Garden Live is a call-in radio show I do on KUTT 99.5 FM from 10-11:30 am and it will run through August 5, 2016. It can also be found on kutt995.com for online listening. If you missed a show or just want to read through the questions, I have written them all in my blog and will continue to do so throughout the season.

Guest Host: Jeff Culbertson, UNL Landscape Services

1. The first caller of the day has asparagus that she planted last Spring. What needs to be done with the plant now?

A. Light harvest can be done the second growing season and then full harvesting can begin the third season. Mulch it now to keep weeds down, herbicide sprays are not able to be safely used too close to growing asparagus. Cut the plants back in the fall after they have grown well all season. Fertilizer can be applied now or in the fall.

2. How do you control moles in the lawn? How do you control grubs in the lawn?

A. For mole control, see this guide from the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management: http://icwdm.org/handbook/mammals/mam_d51.pdf Make sure that you have found an active run area before implementing any traps by stomping the mounds down for a couple of days prior to setting the trap. For grub control, the best option is to apply a product containing Imidacloprid around the third week of June.

3. This caller from the Southern part of the United States said that it is difficult to grow asparagus in the south. Is this due to the lack of dormancy in the south compared to what we have in Nebraska?

A. Yes, asparagus would need to have a rest period that occurs during our winter in Nebraska. However, the roots are also prone to root rot problems, so it might be that your soil could be too high of clay that isn’t allowing the asparagus roots to dry out enough.

4. Another caller has Iris that they have sprayed with Sevin for iris borers that are always a problem. Is this the best product and when should she be applying it? Also, she applied lime to the plants and now they are a lime green color instead of the deep green they are supposed to be. What is causing this discoloration?

A. Lime is used for acidic soils to raise the pH. In Nebraska, most of our soils are heavy clay and therefore already have a high pH. The addition of the lime to the soils in this case is causing chlorosis on these iris plants. It will work through over time, but for a couple of years the iris may look a little tired. The Iris borers have not shown up yet, but a treatment with an imidacloprid, permethrin, or bifenthrin soon or just as the larvae come out would be ideal for control.

5. This caller is wondering what the timing is for fertilizer with crabgrass pre-emergent herbicide? He is also wondering how to control bindweed in bromegrass?

A. Anytime in the next week or 2 would be ideal for fertilizer and crabgrass pre-emergent use this year. The soil temperatures are at 54.9 degrees Fahrenheit for the 7 day average. Crabgrass will germinate at temperatures between 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit, so you can begin applying your control methods anytime now until the end of the month for best control. The bindweed can be controlled with trimec  if used 2-3 times per summer. Keep the bindweed mowed to prevent flowering from occurring to reduce the amount of seed left in the grass.

6. A caller has cedar trees that were recently pruned from the bottom up. What would be a good grass to grow under these trees?

A. A fescue grass would grow well in this shady environment. Also, a nice groundcover such as purple leaf wintercreeper would be a good alternative to grass to reduce mowing under the tree and to grow better in the shade of the tree.

7. This caller from Hickman has a cherry tree. Every year they mow off many “little trees” that grow up and around the cherry tree. Is there anything else to do to reduce the occurrence of these trees?

A. Suckering occurs with many different tree species. These suckers may be growing off of the roots of the main tree so chemicals should not be used or else you may end up killing the desired tree as well. Cutting them off or mowing over them before they grow too large would be the best options for control.

8. This caller has fruit trees. He is wondering if a product called “fruit tree drench” for insects would be ok?

A. Not knowing the active ingredients in this product makes it hard to answer the question. Systemic insecticides are not usually safe for use in plants that are edible because a systemic insecticide will move throughout the entire plant, including into the edible parts. It is suggested to do more research on the safety of the product or to move to a spray type of insecticide that is not systemic to reduce the health hazards that may be a problem with systemic insecticides.

9. Another caller has an apple tree that is 7-8 years old. The last 3 years it has produced nice apples but they are rotten inside. Now there are not many apples that are not rotten on the inside. What can be done for this?

A. Sanitation is going to be key for controlling this disease, known as black rot of apples. A orchard fruit tree spray program can be used to minimize the damage as well. Pruning may need to be done to remove any branches that are dead or diseased.

10. A caller wanted to start a new strawberry patch. How far should the plants be spaced in the garden and what should be done to the soil for improvements?

A. Till in compost and topsoil for increased organic matter and reducing compaction in the soil. Space the plants 1 foot apart.

11. This caller has a maple tree that is not budding out and has not yet lost the leaves from last spring. Will it survive?

A. Some maples, such as the sugar maples, have not yet leafed out for this spring. Use the fingernail test to scratch the bark lightly on smaller branches to see if there is green underneath the bark. Green under the bark means the tree is still alive and waiting to come out of winter dormancy, brown under the bark means it died over the winter.

12. A caller wants to know about the “spray on grass”. Will it work for overseeding?

A. Should work ok, but check with the types of grass seed included in these cans. Many of these mixes have perennial rye which doesn’t last long in Nebraska environments. Also, check for the amount of weed seed found in the mixture.

13. Is it too late to thin Iris plants?

A. The best time to transplant and divide iris plants is in the fall. Use a garden fork to lift them from the ground. Look for borer holes, and then replant them making sure to not plant them too deeply.

14. What is the best advice for improving soils for growing watermelons?

A. Lighter soils are best for growing watermelons. Add compost to improve the fertility.

15. A gentleman has cherry trees, apricot trees, and peach trees. What type of mulch should be applied to help keep the trees watered?

A. Organic mulches should be used, such as the wood chips. They need to be applied at a uniform depth of 2-3 inches in a ring around the trees that is at least 2-3 feet wide around the tree. Water the trees for about 45 minutes every 10-14 days, more may be necessary during the hot, dry periods of the summer. Use a soil probe or long screwdriver to see if the trees need water. Push the probe into the soil up to 12-18 inches deep, if there is resistance any time while pushing into the ground, the trees need water.

grape hyacinth, ricky layson photography, bugwood

Grape Hyacinth photo from Ricky Layson, Ricky Layson Photography, Bugwood.org via Creative Commons License.

16. A caller has grape hyacinth growing in her lawn. What can be done for management?

A. Mow it off. This is a short lived annual plant that is close to the end of its lifetime for this year. There is no need to use chemicals to control this plant.

Trees!!

Arbor Day Blog Post 3

Trees are a wonderful addition to any landscape and have a great deal of benefits. I love trees, all trees! As an ISA Certified Arborist, I have a passion for planting trees and keeping our existing trees healthy. With Arbor Day coming up, it is a great time to begin planting trees.

2016-04-02 10.11.52Trees are vital to our lives. They provide us with oxygen to breathe, they increase the value of our homes, and they make us happy and healthy. There are many great trees to choose from that will do well in Nebraska. If possible, a native tree will do much better in our growing conditions because they are adapted to the weather conditions common in Nebraska. At the very least, the tree you choose must be suited to live in your hardiness zone, Southeast Nebraska is in zone 5b.

Good tree choices include:

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  • White pine
  • Norway spruce
  • Colorado Blue spruce
  • Black Hills Spruce
  • Ponderosa Pine
  • Jack Pine
  • Eastern Red Cedar
  • Concolor Fir
  • Douglas Fir
  • Baldcypress
  • Catalpa
  • Gingko
  • Cottonwood
  • River birch
  • Sycamore
  • Linden
  • Kentucky Coffeetree
  • Elm Hybrids
  • Maples
  • Oaks
  • Tree Lilac
  • Hackberry
  • Black walnut
  • Shagbark Hickory
  • Pecan
  • Chestnut
  • Sweetgum
  • Chanticleer or Cleveland Select Pear (not Bradford)
  • Serviceberry
  • Honeylocust (thornless)
  • Redbud
  • Black Locust
  • Pawpaw
  • Horsechestnut

When looking for trees for your landscape, remember to utilize diversity. Increasing species diversity prevents us from “putting all our eggs in one basket” and prohibits any single insect or disease from destroying a community’s entire forest resource. Pine wilt, Dutch elm disease and the approaching emerald ash borer (EAB) all reinforce the importance of species diversity. In fact, forestry experts recommend that no single species make up more than 10 percent of the entire community forest resource. This comes from the ReTree Nebraska page. ReTree Nebraska is an affiliate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln that focuses on “raising public awareness of the value of trees and reverse the decline and improve the sustainability of community trees and forests”. ReTree has been working on a list of great trees for Nebraska, each year adding more trees to that list. In 2016, they added American Linden to that list.

For care of any tree, water is a vital element to health and growth. Always water newly planted trees, shrubs, or any other plant immediately after planting. Trees should be watered every 10-14 days throughout the growing season and even some during the winter on warmer days. Each watering should give the tree 1-2 inches of water. The best way to determine if a tree needs to be watered is to insert a soil probe or 12-inch-long screwdriver into the ground around the tree. If it goes in easily there is no need to water, if it is difficult at any point then water is necessary for the tree.

tree mulchA mulch ring should be established and maintained around every tree. Mulch helps to keep the roots cool in the summer and regulated to a uniform temperature through the winter rather than the temperature fluctuations we often see during the winter months. Mulch will also help keep weeds down and reduce competition from those weeds for water and nutrients. Mulch also reduces damage to the trunk of trees from lawn mowers and trimmers. Finally, mulch is a way to hold moisture for use later by the tree. Mulch rings should be only 2-3 inches deep and in a circle around the tree at least 2-3 feet out. Organic mulches are a better choice than inorganic mulches. This mulch will need to be renewed every 1-2 years to maintain an effective layer because it will break down and improve the soil over the growing season.

 

Yard and Garden: April 8, 2016

Yard & Garden for blog

This is the Q&A for the Yard and Garden show for April 8, 2016. Yard and Garden Live is a call-in radio show I do on KUTT 99.5 FM from 10-11:30 am and it will run through August 5, 2016. It can also be found on kutt995.com for online listening. If you missed a show or just want to read through the questions, I have written them all in my blog and will continue to do so throughout the season.

Guest Hosts: John Fech and Jonathan Larson, Nebraska Extension Educators for Douglas/Sarpy Extension

1. This caller has rye grass that is turning yellowish-brown after it was already greened up this spring. What is causing this brown coloration?

A. Take a look at the roots of the turf in these brown areas, see if they have dried out. Also, rye grass is more susceptible to winterkill than tall fescue or Kentucky bluegrass is and with these inconsistent temperatures and fluctuations we have been seeing this year, there is more chance that this turf was damaged from the winter conditions. Overseed the lawn now with a better suited turfgrass for Nebraska and delay crabgrass control until Memorial Day.

2. A caller has seed potatoes that he will be planting. How long should the sprout be on those potatoes?

A. This is not an issue, there is no need to worry about the length of the sprout. The issue with planting potatoes is to make sure that there is at least 1-2 eyes on each potato you plant.

3. Would it work to put a patio heater near a pear tree to protect it from damage from the freeze that is predicted for tonight?

A. This would not be feasible to keep the entire tree warm enough to protect it from a freeze occurrence. There is also a fire hazard issue I would be concerned with. For trees that are already blooming, there is really no way to stop the damage to the fruit formation that will come from freezing temperatures overnight.

4. This caller planted his potatoes on St. Patrick’s Day, as the old saying goes. However, they still have not emerged this spring. Is this a concern?

A. This year, St. Patrick’s Day may have been too early. The soils are still quite cold and wet which may cause concern for these potatoes. We would suggest digging up one of the potatoes to see if it is still viable or if it has started to rot in the ground.

5. The previous caller also asked whether a barrier spray with sevin around the garden might help reduce cucumber beetles in the garden?

A. This could work to catch some of the overwintering insects as they move into the garden. It may help to reduce the overall population in the garden.

6. A caller was wondering about the fate of their perennials and flowering shrubs with this freeze warning for tonight, mainly peonies, iris, and daylilies?

A. These plants are more adapted to Nebraska climates so they should be fine. This weather may cause them to lose some buds or cause some black coloration to the blossoms or leaves, but for the most part these will survive. If it is a concern for you, you may want to cover these plants with a sheet or blanket overnight tonight, but remove this during the day.

7. This caller has grass that is green but has large patches of yellow or straw coloration throughout the yard. What is causing this and how can it be fixed?

A. This sounds like a warm-season, grassy weed called nimblewill. This should be controlled in your lawn as it will take over. It can be sprayed with a glyphosate product, such as roundup, and then overseeded. This would need to be done in the fall so that you can spray the nimblewill when it is green and the fall is a good time to overseed. You can also purchase a product called Tenacity to control the nimblewill and harm the grass. Or you can call a lawncare company to control it for you.

8. A caller has apple trees near a cedar tree windbreak. Last year, the apple trees got rust disease. How can this be controlled? Should the cedar trees be removed?

A. Don’t cut down the cedar trees. The spores for cedar-apple rust can spread up to 2 miles and in Nebraska it is very difficult to get that far away from a cedar tree. It would be best to start with newer varieties of the apple trees that are resistant to cedar-apple rust. You can also spray your trees for cedar-apple rust. There is a very good Nebguide on Cedar Apple rust from Amy (Ziems) Timmerman found at: http://extensionpublications.unl.edu/assets/pdf/g1907.pdf

Twig Girdler Insect

Damage from Twig Girdler

9. This caller has 2 Linden trees in his front yard. With the windy days lately, many small twigs have blown out of the trees and it looks like an insect cut the branch off. What is causing this and what can he do about it?

A. This would be a small insect called a twig girdler. They will chew around the branches and make it fall off from a smooth cut. There is no insecticide necessary for this insect, it is best to just collect the branches and dispose of them.

2016-04-08 11.03.23

Greenbriar plant

10. A walk-in client was wanting an identification on a very thorny, green stemmed plant they have found growing up their trees and throughout their property.

A. This is a plant called greenbriar. It can be cut off repeatedly or in areas that are not in flower or vegetable gardens a brush killer product can be used.

11. A gentleman has a 5 year old azalea plant that isn’t blooming, what can he do to improve the blooms?

A. This is a plant that is inconsistent in our environment, we are on the edge of their growing zone. They also like more acidic soils and more protection than what we can often give them. It would be best to move it to a location of morning sun and afternoon shade. You can also add some fertilizer for acid loving plants, similar to what would be applied to blueberries or hydrangeas to give them a blue flower.

12. This caller has a black walnut trees in an old windbreak. Can they grow pampas grass or trumpet vines in close proximity to these black walnuts without detrimental effects?

A. Grasses are not usually affected by the juglone that is produced by the black walnut trees to deter other plants from growing near them. This juglone is produced to naturally reduce competition from the black walnuts with other plants. Trumpet vine should be tolerant because they are a tough plant.

 

Yard and Garden: April 1, 2016

Yard & Garden for blog

This is the Q&A for the Yard and Garden show for April 1, 2016. Yard and Garden Live is a call-in radio show I do on KUTT 99.5 FM from 10-11:30 am and it will run through August 5, 2016. It can also be found on kutt995.com for online listening. If you missed a show or just want to read through the questions, I have written them all in my blog and will continue to do so throughout the season.

Guest Hosts: Daryl Andersen and Kent Thompson from the Little Blue NRD

1. The first caller of the 2016 season has boxelder bugs in their home and need to know how to control them.

A. Boxelder bugs are not harmful to humans and will not populate within our homes. They enter in the fall and will emerge in the spring to leave our homes and go back outdoors. If found indoors, it is best to just vacuum them up or dispose of them in other manners. Barrier sprays around the home will not eliminate the problem, but they can reduce the numbers found in the home. Also, make sure that all cracks and crevices in your home are sealed up and that all screens on windows and doors don’t have any holes in them.

2. This caller has a very sandy lawn, what is the best turf for this area?

A. They may want to do a soil test to let them know for sure what they are dealing with. The best turfgrass selections for this area are Kentucky bluegrass and turf-type tall fescue. You can either select a mixture of these two turfgrasses or find 100 percent of either of them. These grasses perform the best in our environment. It might be a good idea to add organic matter to the lawn area to help improve the soil. Aerate the lawn first then apply a thin layer of compost and rake or lightly till that into the top layer, then overseed the lawn. Now is a great time to overseed, apply light, frequent watering to keep the seed moist while it is germinating.

3. This caller has an old windbreak. They are looking to replant parts of it with red cedars in a multi-row windbreak. How many trees would they need, what is the spacing for these trees? What kind of preparation should they do to the site prior to planting?

A. The NRCS has specifications on tree spacing based on the species. For eastern red cedar, they recommend 12-15 feet between each tree for spacing. Based on that and the space she has in her windbreak, she can figure out how many trees she should plan to order from the NRD. This fall would be a good time to till up the area to prepare it for the trees to be planted next spring. Kent Thompson suggests preparing the soil for tree planting like they would prepare the area for a garden.

4. This caller has ladybugs in their home and wants to know how to get rid of them and where they are coming from?

A. Ladybugs are a predatory insect, meaning that they feed on other insects, such as aphids. They can be found outdoors on many different plant species based on their food sources. Ladybugs are one of the insects that move indoors during the fall and then leave the house in the spring to go back outdoors, so we often see them in the home in both seasons. They are not harmful to us when they come indoors. If found indoors, it is best to just vacuum them up or dispose of them in other manners. Barrier sprays around the home will not eliminate the problem, but they can reduce the numbers found in the home. Also, make sure that all cracks and crevices in your home are sealed up and that all screens on windows and doors don’t have any holes in them.

Termites

Photo of Termites from UNL Department of Entomology

5. Does wood mulch increase the likelihood of termites in our homes?

A. No, wood chip mulches are great to use for plant health. Termites will not survive in mulch if they are found in the trees being made into mulch due to the mulching process or because they dry out to quickly in mulches. However, it is best to not place mulch in locations where it is touching wood window frames or siding. According to Iowa State University, mulches increase the moisture in the soil which favors termite exploration, but any mulch will increase the moisture in the soil. So you can continue to use wood chip mulches because they are the best mulch for plants.

6. This caller wants to know if there are any regulations on rain barrels in the Fairbury area and if a rain barrel is a good option for watering?

A. There are currently no regulations against the use of a rain barrel in Nebraska. Rain barrels are a great option for watering, however it is recommended that this water not be used on vegetable gardens due to the contaminants in the water from the roof that may get into the plant parts we consume. It is a great way to save our fresh, clean water for other uses and to use rain water for watering the lawn, trees, shrubs, and flowers. Be sure to use the water in a timely fashion so that it doesn’t sit too long and attract mosquitoes, or use a screen over the entrance hole to keep insects out of the water.

7. A caller planted 3-4 feet tall blue spruces last year through the correctly recommended practices of planting a tree. He purchased the trees from a grower in Oregon. He watered as needed but avoided overwatering. The trees were checked for diseases with none found. What caused this death and how can he avoid it when he replants?

A. The sample of the trees showed that these trees suffered from environmental stress, which can be any number of problems. These trees are planted on a new site with no protection from wind and construction type of soil. The trees purchased for replanted should be purchased from a local source. A soil test could be done to see if there is any nutrients that should be added to the soil prior to planting for better health of the trees. Otherwise, this problem with environmental stress is common and hard to understand.

8. A caller has a sewer smell to his water, does he need new pipes?

A. Call the plumber or the city to have them look at it. It may be a situation where new pipes are needed, but we can’t tell for sure.

9. This caller has a problem with wild oats growing in their lawn, what can be done to eliminate this weed?

A. Glyphosate products, such as roundup, would be the only thing approved for use in the lawn. Then he will have to overseed. As long as the wild oats are up and growing now, he could go in and spray them and wait a week then overseed the area to bring grass back in and keep the wild oats out.

2016-04-01 10.52.50

Galls on a tree branch

10. A person brought in a tree with odd, round structures on the branches. What are they and can they be controlled?

A. These are galls. Galls are produced by insects and are generally not harmful to trees. if they get high in populations, like they often do on bur oak trees, they can reduce the vigor and growth of the trees. It is very difficult to effectively treat them with insecticides. Cultural controls, such as cleaning up all debris and pruning out and destroying affected areas would be the best control.

11. This caller has fruit trees that are suckering or producing growth from the base of the trunk where it comes out of the ground. What can they do about these suckers?

A. Suckers can be removed from any tree any time throughout the growing season, and should be removed so they don’t get too large and take too much water and nutrients from the main plant. Don’t spray these or use any stump treatment on them after you cut them off or you can damage or even kill the main plant.

12. A caller has a red oak that is slower to leaf out but by May it is usually leafed out well with large, nicely colored leaves throughout the entire tree. Is this a concern that it is slow to leaf out?

A. If the tree does eventually come out and leaf with full-sized leaves throughout the entire canopy and the leaves have good color, it is not a concern. Some trees are just a little later to leaf out than others to avoid highs and lows of spring weather. As long as the tree does come out by summer with leaves the way they should grow and throughout the canopy, it is in good health.

crabgrass, Joseph Berger, Bugwood

Crabgrass Photo By: Joseph Berger, Bugwood.org

13. This caller wanted to know when to fertilize with crabgrass control and when to overseed their lawn?

A. Crabgrass control and overseeding should not be applied at the same time as the crabgrass pre-emergence will also prevent the germination of our turfgrass seed. Overseeding can be done in the month of April, it is better to get it down from April 1-15 but can be done as late as the end of April. Once overseeding is completed, no chemicals should be applied until 3 mowings have been done on the new grass seed. Fertilization should be applied around Arbor Day. Crabgrass control needs to be applied when the soil temperatures have reached 55 degrees Fahrenheit because crabgrass germinates at 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit. As of April 1, Beatrice soil temperatures were at 47.6 degrees Fahrenheit, so we are still 1-2 weeks away from applying crabgrass control.

14. A caller has a soft water system that was installed and goes through the outside water faucet. Will this hurt plants that are watered by this softened water?

A. This water contains a higher level of sodium after it goes through the softener because the water softener exchanges calcium and magnesium for sodium. This sodium can replace potassium in plants and disrupt the functions in the plants, causing it to die, according to Illinois Extension. So, due to the high sodium content, softened water is not recommended to be used on household plants, lawns, or gardens. It might be a good idea for this caller to try out a rain barrel for watering their lawn and garden areas.

15. The final caller of the day has a pear tree that is 7-8 years old and has very low blooming. What is causing that?

A. Many pear trees need to be cross pollinated from a different species or variety of pear tree to produce fruit. It would be helpful to plant another type of pear tree in your landscape to help pollinate the tree. Also, remember to not spray chemicals on the tree while the tree is in bloom to avoid damaging any pollinator insects.

Spring Lawncare

Spring Lawncare, blog post

April is finally here, which means spring should be bringing in warmer weather. April is a good time to get out and start working in the lawn and garden to prepare our yards. To help ensure that you have the best lawn on the block, here are few tips to improve your lawn this spring.

April is a great time to overseed your lawn. If you had some spots that were flooded out last spring, now is a great time to get some new seed planted. The beginning part of April is best for seeding lawns, but it can be done until the end of the month. Frequent, light irrigation is necessary to keep newly seeded lawns moist. It may be necessary to water twice a day to keep it from drying out and dying. Straw mulch can be applied to keep the seedbed moist, but it is not necessary and can bring problems with weed seed that is often a contaminant of straw. Do not apply any pesticides to newly seeded lawn until you have completed 2-3 mowings. Also, do not try to overseed right before or right after applying crabgrass preventer as this chemical will prevent the germination of your desired grasses as well.

We often face difficulties with weeds in our lawns. The key to weed management is to keep your lawn healthy to avoid weed infestations and to identify the weed before chemical controls are used. Many of our herbicides are specific to either a grass weed or a broadleaf weed and won’t work on the other weed type. Also, you need to know the weed to know the lifecycle for when the best time is to manage that weed with a chemical. As I stated in my previous news column, henbit is a winter annual and should only be chemically controlled in the lawn in the fall, the spring is too late.

crabgrass, Joseph Berger, Bugwood

Crabgrass Photo By: Joseph Berger, Bugwood.org

Crabgrass pre-emergent herbicides need to be applied before crabgrass germinates, which is when the soil temperature is 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit. This typically occurs toward the end of April. Applying this chemical too soon may cause the chemical to stop working earlier in the season when crabgrass may still be germinating. In this case an additional application may be necessary later in the spring, so it is best to wait until the correct time to only have to apply this one time per season. Broadleaf weeds, such as dandelions, clover, and ground ivy should be controlled in the fall for best control but can be managed in the spring with 2,4-D products.

Fertilizing turf can be done up to 4 times per growing season. Apply fertilizers at a rate of 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet for each application. A good trick for remembering when to apply fertilizers is to fertilize with the holidays: Arbor Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Halloween.

Mower Collage

We are now getting to the time of year when we will have to start mowing our lawns. Prepare your lawn mower for the season before you start mowing. Start by sharpening the blades. Dull mowing blades can cause tearing to occur on the grass blades rather than a smooth cut. These tears can lead to more insect and disease problems. Change the oil in your lawn mower, if you didn’t do that in the fall. Check your spark plugs and tire pressure. Finally, make sure you clean under the deck for any grass that may still be stuck under there from last season. You can start mowing as soon as the grass starts growing. Remember to mow at a height of 2.5-3.5 inches and only cut off 1/3 of the grass blade each time you mow.

Henbit in the lawn

Henbit flower from canva

This time of the year is always fun. It is starting to warm up and we can begin to emerge from our winter hibernation indoors. However, with the movement outdoors come the calls to my office. People venture outdoors and begin to notice plants growing that were not intentionally planted. One of the most common nuisance plants that seems to plant itself in your beautiful lawn and is noticed early in the spring is Henbit.

Henbit is a plant in the mint family and therefore it has square stems. It grows to a height of 16 inches and has dark green leaves that are scalloped along the edges and arranged oppositely along the stem. The leaves are clasping below the flower cluster. It has a purple colored, tubular flower. This is a plant that spreads by seed but can quickly invade turf areas and invade into a flower or vegetable garden. Henbit is the plant that is often seen in masses of purple in fields very early in the spring.

Henbit in field from Purdue

Cornfields full of purple henbit (Purdue Agriculture photo/John Obermeyer)

Henbit is a winter annual plant, which means that it germinates in the fall or winter. It then grows for a period of time in the early winter, goes dormant in the very cold periods and resumes growth early in the spring to flower and produce seed. After flowering, it will die, because it has set seed for new plants for next fall and spring.

People typically only notice henbit in their lawns in the spring when it is flowering. However, the best time for management is in the fall when it is first germinating. If you use chemicals to control henbit in a lawn, it is best to do prior to flowering and seed production. In the spring, when most people see henbit, there is no need for chemical controls because the plant has already set seed for next year’s crop and the plants seen are on their way to death anyway.

Management can be successful without chemicals. Henbit is a plant that does well in the areas where our turf does not. It grows well in compacted soils, typically along the edges of sidewalks and driveways where it can easily outcompete our turf for the space. It also grows well where there is good soil moisture and shade. Because of this, it is easily managed by encouraging a dense, vigorous turf or to change the landscape by utilizing other plants besides turf or applying mulch in areas where turf struggles and henbit grows well. Henbit can also be hand-pulled for quick removal, this is the preferred method of control in the spring. If chemicals are necessary and desired for management of Henbit, they should be applied in the fall. Products that contain 2,4-D have the best control for Henbit.

henbit, steve dewey, Utah State Univ, Bugwood

Photo by: Steve Dewey, Utah State University, Bugwood.com

Henbit is often confused with Creeping Charlie, or Ground Ivy, because they are in the same family of plants and they both have similar flowers. Henbit is a winter annual, while Creeping Charlie is a perennial, so henbit will flower well before Creeping Charlie does in the spring. Also, Creeping Charlie tends to have more blue flowers while Henbit has more purple-lavender flowers. Henbit has clasping leaves below the flower cluster, while Creeping Charlie does not. Be sure you know which plant you are dealing with to achieve the best control.

Correct Timing for Spring Yardwork

Lilac- Glenn Kraeck, Flickr

Flickr image courtesy of Glenn Kraeck per CC license

It has been exceptionally warm so far this year. We haven’t had a lot of snow events yet and the weather has already hit the 70’s on multiple occasions. However, it is still too early to go out and do too much to your gardens, we could still face rather cold temperatures and possibly even snowy conditions yet this spring. So, I wanted to take the time to go over when the best time for garden preparations should begin.

2014-03-04 11.18.22Vegetable gardens are always a favorite of mine in the spring and summer for delicious homegrown crops. Potatoes and Peas can be planted in late March to early April. Other cool season crops should be planted in early to mid-April. We can start seeds for transplants for summer crops at this time. Begin seedlings 10 weeks prior to transplanting for slow growing plants such as broccoli, lettuce, and cabbage. Allow for 6-7 weeks of growth for new seedlings prior to transplanting for plants such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. And you only need to plant those fast growing species such as cucumbers, squash, and the melons 2-3 weeks in advance of transplanting. Remember, transplanting should occur no sooner than mother’s day, which is May 8th this year.

Turf can be overseeded or reseeded from the end of March through the beginning of April. We still need to wait until then to overseed, because with this early warm weather it may cause some to germinate and cold night temperatures could kill those young plants. Be sure that you are buying certified weed free seed. The best grass choices for eastern Nebraska are either 100% tall fescue, 90% tall fescue with 10% Kentucky bluegrass, 100% Kentucky bluegrass, or 100% buffalograss as a warm season grass choice. Mixes are fine to use in Nebraska, but you want to make sure it is a good mix. If you purchase a mix, avoid any that contain annual bluegrass, ‘Linn’ perennial ryegrass, or ‘Kenblue’ Kentucky bluegrass. Crabgrass preventer should not be applied until later April when the soil temperatures have warmed up. Don’t use crabgrass preventer on newly seeded lawns until you have mowed 3 times on the newly seeded grass.

Wait to uncover your perennials this spring. The mulch applied around the perennials in the winter is not meant to keep the plants warm, it is meant to keep the plants at a uniform temperature throughout the growing season. If you leave the mulch on in these warm days, this will help to keep your plants cold, and therefore, help them maintain their dormancy. The same goes with roses that were placed under rose cones in the fall. Leave those cones on as long as you can.

apples-A. Henneman flickr

Flickr image courtesy of Alice Henneman per CC license

We may have plants that break dormancy early with all of these warm temperatures. This may cause some dieback on the branches or stems and most likely these plants will survive. The bigger problem will be with plants that fruit such as strawberries or fruit trees. If these plants break dormancy and start to bud their buds may be damaged by a freeze event and then the plants will not produce fruit. Fruit trees cannot be discouraged from this occurrence, which is why we often have problems with low or no fruit on peaches and apricots with a late freeze event.

 

Safely Using Pesticides

2015-06-25 10.19.56

*Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended of those not mentioned and no endorsement by University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension is implied for those mentioned.

Pesticides are a commonly used method of managing pests in our landscapes. However, pesticides are poisons, so they need to be handled carefully. It is at this time of the year that many educators from Nebraska Extension help to educate the public in proper uses of pesticides through private and commercial pesticide education. With spring coming right around the corner, it is a good time to reinforce those safety precautions to everyone who might be using pesticides.

Pesticide is the general term for any insecticide, herbicide, rodenticide, etc. Insecticides are specific to insects, herbicides are specific to weeds, and rodenticides are specific to rodents like mice. They are used to kill organisms that cause diseases and threaten public health. Mainly, in our landscapes, we use them to manage insects, diseases, and weeds that cause problems in our desired plants.

Pesticide recommended gloves, UNL photo

Examples of recommended gloves: nitrile (reusable and disposable), neoprene, and butyl rubber. Photo: University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Because pesticides can be dangerous if handled, stored, or disposed of improperly, always read and follow the label because the label is the law. This includes reading the label to ensure you are using the correct Personal Protective Equipment or PPE as it is often referred to. Most homeowner available chemicals will require gloves, long pants, long-sleeved shirt, and eye protection at most. Some chemicals will require things like a face shield or respirator.

When using pesticides pay close attention to the weather. Do not apply pesticides on windy days, as the spray droplets are easily picked up in the wind and blown to non-target plants. Certain chemicals, such as 2,4-D, can volatilize or turn into a gas to move to non-target plants to cause damage or death. This can happen when the pesticide is applied when the temperature is 80 degrees Fahrenheit or higher on that day or up to 72 hours later.

Always apply pesticides at the label recommended rates. Pesticides that are applied at incorrect rates can cause resistance to occur in the pest, which would make the pesticide useless to that pest population. Also, make sure that you are applying the pesticide at the correct time for best control of the pest. It is also a good idea to switch between chemicals rather than use the same pesticide each time, which can also lead to resistance. So, if it is an insect pest in your vegetable garden, switch between sevin, eight, and bifenthrin on a rotating basis throughout the growing season, as the insect exists. Be sure to follow the label when applying any pesticide to edible crops, there will be a PHI or Pre Harvest Interval number. This PHI will dictate how many days to wait from when the pesticide is applied to when the crops can be harvested for consumption to ensure they are safe to eat. And finally, it is very important to know what pest you are dealing with before you apply pesticides to ensure you are using the correct chemical for the pest.

Pesticides tend to runoff into our water supply. Often, granular pesticides fall onto sidewalks and driveways to be blown or washed into the storm drains. Also, pesticides that are applied shortly before rain events are often washed into the storm drains causing pollution to our water supply. Because of the sensitivity of our environment to pesticides, it is always best to use an Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, approach. IPM is when you use multiple tactics to control pests rather than just utilizing pesticides. Methods of IPM include:

  • Mechanical
    • hand pulling weeds
  • Cultural
    • sanitation by removing infected leaves to reduce diseases
  • Biological
    • protecting beneficial insects
  • Chemical methods to control pest populations

Insects & Firewood

Fireplace

Flickr image courtesy of Shay Sowden per CC license

Wood burning stoves and fireplaces are a nice way to keep your homes warm in the winter while saving money on heating bills. However, when using any type of wood-powered heating method, it is always a concern of what other things you will bring inside besides just the firewood. Insects are often found in wood brought indoors for fireplaces and they can emerge in your home to cause you troubles. The most common insects we find in our firewood include carpenter ants and wood-boring beetles.

Insects can be brought into your home when you bring in firewood for fireplaces and stoves. Some insects may lay their eggs or pupate within trees prior to or just after they have been cut down for firewood, the insects may still be inside the wood when you bring it indoors. When the temperatures warm up, either in spring or in your home if you bring the firewood indoors, the insects can emerge. These insects rarely cause an infestation in your home or cause damage to your furniture or home structure, but can be a nuisance when they get into your home.

carpenter ant

Carpenter Ants are commonly found in many forms of decaying wood. They do not feed on wood, but they dig into decaying wood to form galleries for their nests. Carpenter Ants are the large black or red ants often found on trees that have decay as they are making a nest within that tree. In a house, carpenter ants can do damage if you have a leak which has caused wood of your home to decay, otherwise they usually will not become a problem in a home. They can be brought indoors with firewood that they were living in.

There are many wood-boring beetles that are also found in firewood. We have longhorned beetles, flatheaded borers, and bark beetles that are all found in trees and logs cut for firewood. Females of these beetles are actually attracted to dying, freshly cut, or recently killed trees to lay eggs on the wood. These beetles can emerge in your home, but don’t usually cause problems in the wood products found within your home. One common structure-infesting pest, a powerpost beetle, can get into your home, but they only lay their eggs on bare, unfinished wood. Wood that has been varnished, painted, or sealed is safe unless exposed surfaces appear. So, the wood-boring beetles can get into our homes on firewood, but they are rarely a problem other than an annoyance to you.

A good control for insects that emerge from your firewood in your home is to vacuum them to dispose of them in that manner. However, the best method of management of these insects is to keep them out of the house in the first place. To protect your home from insects emerging from firewood indoors, bring in wood only as needed. Do not store your firewood indoors, leave it outdoors in an accessible location to bring in wood a few pieces at a time so that it goes directly into the fire. It is not recommended, and is strongly discouraged, to apply pesticides to your firewood because dangerous fumes may come out of the firewood when you burn it.