Plant Choices

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The winter months are a great time to start thinking about gardening for the spring. There is nothing for us to grow and we can’t go outdoors and do much in our garden beds, so we can start to think about spring to reduce our cabin fever. It is a great time because the plant catalogs have begun to arrive. Hooray! A great listing of plants to utilize in your garden would include the All-American Selections and the Perennial Plant of the Year.

The All-American Selection (AAS) group is “the only non-profit plant trialing organization in North America” according to their website. This is a selection organization that is unbiased because all proceeds go into the trials and promoting all AAS winners. Each year the group selects many different judges and judging sites. One of the judging sites for this year was in Omaha, judged by my colleague, John Porter. These judges are professional horticulturists who are volunteering their time to evaluate plants for their growth, flowering or fruiting, and how well they adapt to different environmental conditions. Universities and public gardens are good judging sites because they will keep the results impartial. The AAS is a good way to test new cultivars throughout North America to help gardeners trust the plants they purchase. It is hard when shopping through all the different varieties to know which ones do well, the AAS finds those for you.

Each year the group chooses multiple annuals, perennials, and vegetables to be All American Selections. Then, the group comes up with a selection of annuals, vegetables, and perennials. For 2018, their choices include South Pacific Orange Canna, American Dream Sweet Corn, Super Hero Spry Marigold, Onyx Red Ornamental Pepper, Hungarian Mexican Sunrise Pepper, Cocktail Red Racer Tomato and Queeny Lime Orange Zinnia among others. One of the selections judged in Omaha was the Asian Delight Pak Choi. This variety does not bolt like the comparisons. Even weeks after other varieties went to seed, this Pak Choi did not bolt. John Porter stated that it did not bolt at all during the summer.

Pak-Choi-Asian-Delight, AAS Website

Asian Delight Pak Choi, Photo from the All-American Selections Website

Another great plant choice is the 2018 Perennial Plant of the year, Allium ‘Millenium’. This is a plant honor that was chosen by the perennial plant association which is a trade association of growers, retailers, landscapers, educators and others in the herbaceous perennial industry. They choose a plant to showcase each year that is a standout plant. The perennials they choose are widely adaptive and have minimal insect and disease issues with low management inputs.

Millenium Allium, Perennial Plant Association

Allium ‘Millenium’ from the Perennial Plant Association Website

Allium ‘Millenium’ is a great choice because it is a workhorse of the late summer garden, according the Perennial Plant Association. Alliums are ornamental onions, and this variety is supposed to be spelled with only one ‘n’ in the middle of the word ‘Millenium’, unlike the correct spelling with 2 ‘n’s. The parent plants of ‘Millenium’ have late flowering, uniform habit, great foliage, and are drought resistant. These traits are also seen in ‘Millenium’. This plant is a butterfly magnet and provides large blooms of deep purple in the late summer. The plant reaches up to 15 inches tall and stays looking healthy through the season. One of the great things about ‘Millenium’ is that it is deer and rabbit resistant and no serious pest problems are found on it.

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Fall Color

Shagbark hickory, flickr, Nicholas A. Tonelli

Shagbark Hickory photo courtesy of Nicholas A. Tonelli via Flickr Creative Commons License

Fall is a wonderful time of the year, especially when the trees have a good display of colors.

There is a reason why our trees turn so pretty in the fall and why they are green the rest of the year. The color in our trees, during any part of the year, is due to four different pigments that are present in the leaves: chlorophyll, carotene, tannin and anthocyanin. During the spring and summer, chlorophyll is the primary pigment in leaves. It is constantly being generated by the trees as it is easily broken down by bright sunlight. When this compound is being produced in the spring and summer, it is the most prevalent and that is why we see the green in the leaves.

As the nights gets cooler and the days get shorter, the tree produces a membrane between the branches and the leaves, causing them to no longer receive any chlorophyll that the tree might still be producing. This membrane also leads to the eventual shedding of the leaves in the fall. At this time, the other pigments are allowed to show up in the leaves.

Carotene is the pigment that is responsible for yellow and orange colored leaves. Carotene is always in the leaves, as it aids in the capture of sunlight for photosynthesis, but it is at a lower amount than chlorophyll so the green color shows up as the predominant pigment.

Tannins are our least favorite pigment color; they make the brown colored leaves. Tannins are always present in leaves but are not shown until the chlorophyll and carotene are gone from the leaves. These often accumulate in the dead portions of the leaves, which is why dead areas of our leaves turn brown in color.

Anthocyanin is the pigment that is responsible for pink, red, and purple leaves. This pigment is usually not present in the leaves until the fall. Some trees have red or purple colored leaves during the entire growing season because they have higher amounts of anthocyanins than chlorophyll throughout the whole growing season. Other trees don’t produce any anthocyanins and those are the trees that turn yellow, orange, or brown during the fall. Those trees and shrubs that turn red in the fall form anthocyanins when the concentration of sugar in the leaf increases. Low temperatures and bright sunshine destroys chlorophyll and when the temperatures stay above freezing during this time, anthocyanins are produced.

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Burning Bush with great Red fall color

So, what causes our trees to turn bright and colorful in the fall and why are some years better than others? The brightest fall colors are produced when dry, sunny days are followed by cool, dry nights. The dry, sunny days are needed to break-down the chlorophyll in the leaves allowing the other pigments to be dominant in the leaves. The cool, dry nights are also necessary for fall color because trees need to avoid freezing temperatures which can injure or kill the leaves causing them to stop producing much sugar at all. The sugar content is what increases the amount of the anthocyanin, or red pigment. The yellow and brown will be present, but the red is necessary as well.

You don’t have to travel far to get amazing fall colors from the trees. There are many places right here in Nebraska to go for a wonderful fall color display in the trees. Indian Cave State Park in the far Southeast portion of the state, Ponca State Park in Northeast Nebraska, the Nebraska National Forests, and even your own backyard are great locations to find fall tree displays. Look around, they are not that hard to find, just as long as we have dry, sunny days followed by cool, dry nights and minimal frost until later in the season we will have a beautiful display of trees in the fall.

Choosing Plants for Next Spring

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The winter months are sometimes very difficult for a horticulture enthusiast. There is nothing for us to grow and we can’t go outdoors and do much in our garden beds, so we start to get a bit of cabin fever. However, there is always something to do in January for our gardens because the plant catalogs have begun to arrive. Hooray! We can start planning our gardens for the next season. A great listing of plants to utilize in your garden would include the All American Selections and the Perennial Plant of the Year.

The All American Selection (AAS) group is “the only non-profit plant trialing organization in North America” according to their website. This is a selection organization that is unbiased because all proceeds go into the trials and promoting all AAS winners. Each year the group selects many different judges and judging sites. These judges are professional horticulturists who are volunteering their time to evaluate plants for their growth, flowering or fruiting, and how well they adapt to different environmental conditions. Often times, Universities and public gardens are potential judging sites to keep the results impartial. The AAS is a good way to test new cultivars throughout North America to help gardeners trust the plants they purchase.

Each year the group chooses multiple annuals, perennials, and vegetables to be All American Selections. For 2017, the group came up with a great group of annuals, vegetables, and perennials. The one perennial that was chosen for 2017 was Twizzle Purple Penstemon.

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This photo of Twizzle Purple Penstemon is from the All American Selection website at: http://all-americaselections.org/product/penstemon-barbatus-twizzle-purple/

Penstemon plants are great for any garden as they grow tall and upright and have flowers similar to snapdragons because they are in the same plant family. Twizzle purple is a new penstemon with vibrant purple flowers. The judges liked the upright habit of the plant and the overall great flowering performance. This penstemon grows up to 35 inches high and is a great pollinator attracting plant.

Another great pollinator plant is the 2017 Perennial Plant of the year, Butterfly Milkweed. This is a plant honor that was chosen by the perennial plant association which is a trade association of growers, retailers, landscapers, educators and others in the herbaceous perennial industry. They choose a plant to showcase each year that is a standout plant. The perennials they choose are widely adaptive and have minimal insect and disease issues with low management inputs. Butterfly milkweed was chosen for the 2017 Perennial Plant of the year to “celebrate an excellent plant known for its ability to support insects and birds and serve as the primary caterpillar food for a beloved North American native butterfly”. That butterfly would be the Monarch butterfly. Monarchs have been decreasing in their population over the past few years due to many different factors, but lack of food is one. Milkweed is the primary source of food for Monarch butterflies and that plant is now reduced in our environment due to the way that we garden and the fact that people regard milkweeds as weeds. Planting pollinator plants will help with the populations.

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This photo of Butterfly Milkweed is courtesy of Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service (retired), Bugwood.org

Butterfly milkweed is a native plant with small, bright orange colored flowers that are held in bunches throughout the plant. This is not the common milkweed that most people find to be a weed, which is another great pollinator plant. This is a unique and interesting plant that will attract many pollinators to your garden. The plants grow 2-3 feet tall and wide. Butterfly milkweed plants are a great addition to any landscape, but especially in a prairie, native grass area, or naturalized planting.

Fall is a time for Apples and Garlic

Fall is a great time of the year. It can be bittersweet, though, because it often signals the end of our growing season. The good thing is that this is also the time of the year to go pick apples. It is apple month, for tips and recipes on apples, visit the Nebraska Extension October food calendar.

Each different variety of apple differs for their harvest time. To determine the harvest time for the apple, knowing the variety will help you. In fall, a common question from gardeners with a favorite apple or pear tree is for identification of the cultivar from the color and shape of the fruit. This almost impossible to do, in fact, it’s really only realistic to give a general idea of possible cultivars. So, if you don’t know the variety, you can look at the color, flavor, and texture of the apple.

apples-A. Henneman flickr

Flickr image courtesy of Alice Henneman per CC license

To know a mature apple, look at the “ground color”, which is the color of an apple’s skin disregarding any areas of red. You can also try one to ensure that it is the correct sweetness and make sure it is firm and not overripe and soft. Overripe apples will detach from the tree more easily than those that are at the correct stage of ripeness. If the apple is too ripe, it will break down in storage more quickly than those that are at the peak of their maturity.

For storage it is best to pick apples when they are still hard but mature. Place the apples in a box or crate with a smooth lining so that staples don’t puncture or injure the apple. These boxes or crates should be lined with plastic or foil to retain humidity around the apples. Remove bruised and large apples that will break down more quickly than the rest of the apples. Apples produce ethylene gas, even after they are removed from the tree, which speeds up the ripening process in fruits. A damaged apple will produce more ethylene than other apples. Apples should be stored in the fridge or other location where they are kept at temperatures around 32 degrees Fahrenheit, an apple stored too warm will ripen faster.

Fall is also a great time to plant garlic. I love Italian food, so therefore I am a huge fan of fresh garlic. Garlic is best planted from mid-September through mid-October, one month before the soil freezes. The bulbs planted in the fall will root and begin to sprout before going dormant for the winter. Next spring, these bulbs will continue to grow until harvest in the summer months.

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Flickr image courtesy of Olga Filonenko per CC license.

To grow garlic, plant small cloves for each plant you want. The clove is obtained from the division of the large bulb. Planting larger cloves will lead to larger bulbs for harvest next year. Wait until just before you begin planting to divide the bulb into the individual cloves. Plant the cloves 3-5 inches apart, 1-2 inches deep with the point upward in the soil. If you are planting multiple rows, the rows need to be 18-30 inches apart. Before completing your gardening tasks this fall, remember to mulch the planted garlic with 8-12 inches of straw after the soil freezes.

The apple information from this article came from an article written by Mary Jane Frogge, Extension Associate from Lancaster County Extension. The garlic information from this article came from the e-Hort Update at hortupdate.unl.edu which is a newsletter you can sign up for to get more horticulture information throughout the year.

Pirate Bugs are Everywhere!

Fall is a great time of year, the weather is cooler, the trees are turning brilliant fall colors, and we can enjoy being outdoors. However, sometimes that enjoyment is smashed when insect invaders join our outdoor gatherings. The minute pirate bug is one that shows up this time of the year.

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Minute Pirate Bug photo courtesy of Kim Riggs, Richardson County Extension

Minute pirate bugs are the tiny, black insects that seem to fall out of the trees in the fall and bite us. The bug, which is a true bug, is 1/8 inch in length and black with white and black wings. The appearance of this bug is very similar to a chinch bug. The wings have an “X” on them which is typical for insects that are true bugs.

Minute pirate bugs are present throughout the summer but they are out in fields, woodlands, and gardens. During the summer they are feeding on other insects. They are actually a beneficial insect. Pirate bugs are predatory insects that feed on many insects that cause harm to our plants, such as thrips, aphids, mites, and small caterpillars as well as the eggs of other insects.

Most people wouldn’t notice these pirate bugs if they didn’t land on us and bite us. Pirate bugs bite with a pain that doesn’t seem possible from such a tiny insect. However, some people may not notice the sting at all because the reaction to the bite can differ from no reaction at all to having the area swell up like a mosquito bite. But, in the fall, these insects move into the areas where people are more often outside and they begin to bite us. When they bite us, they insert their piercing-sucking mouthpart into our skin, which can be painful. However, the good thing is that they do NOT feed on blood, inject a venom or transmit diseases.

Because of the painful reaction that most of us receive from this pest, we want to do something to control them, however, control is not practical. Minute pirate bugs are a temporary pest, they are beneficial insects, and most of our solutions would not harm them so there is no reason to try to control them with an insecticide. Using a bug spray will not deter them either because they are not attracted to us by carbon dioxide like most other blood-feeding insects such as mosquitos. So, the best control for these pests would be to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts and dark colored clothing or to wait patiently for cooler weather when they will no longer be a problem.

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Photo of Ground Beetle courtesy of Daniel R. Suiter, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org

And just as a reminder, this is the time of the year when our insect invaders start to move into our homes. Many of the insects and other arthropods that we see every year are things like boxelder bugs, Asian multicolored ladybeetles, ground beetles, centipedes, millipedes, and spiders. All of these do not pose any physical harm to us, spiders can bite but it is rare and usually does not cause much harm. The best controls for these critters would be to use a home barrier spray, sticky traps and to vacuum them up as you see them. These insects and others are moving into our homes with the cooler temperatures to keep warm during the winter.

Planting for Fall Color

Planting for Fall Color

Fall will soon be here, with it comes cooler weather, football, and the changing of color of many of our plants. For fall, there are a few plants that I always look to for a great show of color, this is a short list but there are many more plants for fall color.

Fall color is one of the reasons we all enjoy the season. The leaves turn from green to red, yellow, or orange in the fall due to the pigments present in the leaves. During the spring and summer months, green chlorophyll is the dominant pigment in leaves and this hides the other pigments from view. In the fall, the production of chlorophyll slows down and eventually stops altogether to allow the other pigments to show up in our leaves. The different conditions we see each fall affects the how much and how vivid the colors are in the fall, which is why some years we have better fall color than others. Clear days, cool nights, and dry conditions in the fall promote high quality fall color, according to Iowa State University.

Garden mums or Chrysanthemums are wonderful for fall color. They bloom in August and September in colors such as purple, pink, orange, yellow, white, coral, and deep burgundy or red. They need to be pinched back 2-3 times in June until Independence Day to ensure that they bloom properly in the fall. Some mums have low winter hardiness due to repeated freezing and thawing throughout our winters. If this occurs, add extra mulch around the plants before winter, cut the plants back in the spring rather than in the fall, and discontinue fertilization by the end of July.

Shagbark hickory, flickr, Nicholas A. Tonelli

Shagbark Hickory photo from Nicholas A. Tonelli via Flickr Creative Commons License

Shagbark Hickory is one of my favorite trees that are underutilized in Nebraska. In the fall this tree turns a brilliant golden-yellow color to help enrich your fall landscape color. The shaggy bark appearance that the older trees grow into is another unique characteristic of this tree. This is a native plant to the region so it will withstand the constantly changing weather that is typical of Nebraska. Also, because it is a hickory tree, it produces a tasty, edible nut that is similar to hickory nuts, making it a great tree choice for nut production and for wildlife.

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Burning Bush in Fall Color

Burning Bush is a terrific large shrub choice for most any landscape. This is a type of shrub that can grow up to 20 feet tall, but there is a compact version that grows up to 10 feet tall. It has a deep glossy green leaf throughout the spring and summer but in the fall it turns a bright red color or pink in shady locations. One problem with Burning Bush, however, is that it is a plant that is susceptible to scale insect. Scale can be controlled when in the crawler stage, typically in the early spring, with an insecticidal soap or Horticulture oil.

There are also a lot of great oak trees that can be planted for great fall color. Red and white oaks turn red in the fall. Bur Oaks turn a yellow color in the fall. Shumard oak is another great oak tree that has reliable red fall color. Oak trees are a great tree choice for Nebraska and their fall color just makes them that much better. They are well adapted for most of the conditions we face in Nebraska and can typically withstand drought conditions fairly well. Plus, their acorns are a huge draw for wildlife for those who enjoy to view deer, squirrels, and other wildlife.

Nebraska Wildflower Week

Wildflowers blog

Nebraska is a wonderful place to live. One of my favorite things in the spring and summer months is to drive around and see all of the beautiful flowers blooming along the roadsides, many of which are wildflowers.

For 2016, Nebraska Wildflower Week will be celebrated June 3rd through June 12th. Nebraska Wildflower Week is observed every year in early June. The Nebraska Statewide Arboretum is a coordinator of this event. Wildflower Week is aimed to increase awareness and appreciation of wildflowers and native plants in the wild and in the landscape through an array of events and activities across Nebraska, according to the Statewide Arboretum.

One of the events for the 2016 Nebraska Wildflower Week will be held right here in Beatrice. The Beatrice Public Library will have a display of books and information on wildflowers. They will also have wildflower seedlings that were started by the Gage County Master Gardeners that will be given away for free as long as supplies last. The Seed Library also has a good selection of wildflower seeds and grass seeds available for free as well.

Planting your native and wildflower seeds and native grasses will take a few years of care before the area will become low-maintenance and beautiful. The site for planting needs to be prepared for wildflower planting. For preparation of the site, first apply a glyphosate herbicide, such as Roundup, to kill existing plant material and weeds to help the seedlings germinate better and have less competition. This herbicide should be applied 10-21 days prior to mowing and tilling the area to finish preparing the site for seeding. Seed wildflowers in the spring or in the fall and transplant container-grown plants then as well.

The first couple of years may seem disappointing to you in your new wildflower garden. Those first 2 years you may see no or very limited flower development as the plants need to grow good roots and build the plant up before it can begin growing flowers. The first growing season, you should mow this prairie area 1-3 times at the highest possible height on your lawnmower, waiting at least 1 month between each mowing. In the second year, you may need to mow your prairie one time in the summer. You may need to spot spray weeds during establishment but fertilizers are not necessary and can hinder growth by increasing weed growth and disturbing the natural process of wildflowers. By the third year, you should have a very low-management prairie for your landscape with many native wildflowers. Mow this once a year early in the spring or late in the fall.

Wildflower Collage

Wildflower Photos from the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum at: arboretum.unl.edu/wildflower-week

There are a lot of choices for wildflowers. Many locations will feature a seed mix which is a good choice for many different types of wildflowers that are already mixed together for a pleasing display. Bob Henrickson, from the Statewide Arboretum has a list of his top 12 wildflowers for Nebraska. This list includes: Beardtongue (Penstemon), Black-eyed Susan, Compass plant, Desert globemallow, Leadplant, Prairie Larkspur, Plains Coreopsis, Purple poppy mallow, Prairie coneflower, Yellow coneflower (Mexican Hat), Prairie Phlox, and Spiderwort. Any of these would be a great choice for your wildflower prairie. And remember wildflowers are not just for an acreage, they can be planted in a small garden space in town as well.

For more information on Nebraska Wildflower Week, Activities to attend, and a List of places to view Wildflowers, visit: http://arboretum.unl.edu/wildflower-week

 

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.

 

Plants For Spring

Plants for Spring Gardens-Canva

Well we are back to a new year and hopefully 2016 will be a great year for you all. One of my favorite things about a new year is getting excited to start planting again. Now, obviously we can’t go out and plant in our gardens right now, but we can start to determine what we will plant this spring to add new interest to our gardens. A great place to start would be the “Great Plants for the Great Plains”.

The Great Plants program is developed by the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum. It is a program to bring superior ornamental landscape plants into gardens to meet the challenging growing conditions of the Great Plains, according to their website. This program helps to increase diversity in our landscapes and encourages homeowners to plant with underutilized plant material.

The members of the arboretum choose a tree, conifer, shrub, perennial, and grass selection for each year. This year, the group has chosen

  • American hornbeam for the tree
  • Ponderosa pine for the conifer
  • New Jersey Tea for the shrub
  • Fremont’s primrose for the perennial
  • ‘Dallas Blues’ switchgrass for the grass.

2016 Great Plants Collage

Try incorporating these unique and great plants into your landscaping this spring.

Other good plant choices would include the 2016 All American Selections. These are selections that were tested for their performance by impartial judges. The plants chosen as National winners are selected based on the fact that they perform best over all of North America. There are also regional winners that perform best in certain regions. The varieties chosen for the 2016 National Winners include:

  • Brocade Cherry Night Geranium
  • Brocade Fire Geranium
  • Japanese Red Kingdom Mustard
  • Cornito Giallo Pepper
  • Escamillo Pepper
  • Strawberry Delizz F1 Strawberry
  • Candyland Red Tomato
  • Chef’s Choice Green Tomato
  • The regional winner from the Heartland, which includes Nebraska, is Summer Jewel Lavender Salvia

These are some unique and fun choices of plants that can be added to your garden and your cooking. Try growing some of these with your children or grandchildren as a fun way to introduce them to gardening.

You can also look at seed catalogs and local seed sources to find fun, new varieties for your landscape and vegetable garden. January is an exciting time for any horticulturist as the new seed catalogs start coming in the mail in January and February. If you aren’t receiving any seed catalogs in the mail you can go online to sign up for a catalog, most of them are free. Just go to your favorite seed company and request their catalog. Good choices include

  • Burpee
  • Jung
  • Johnny’s
  • Gurney’s
  • Stock Seed Farm

Take the time now, while it is too cold to go outside, to plan out your gardens and determine what you will plant in the space you have available. Remember to always follow the guidelines for spacing in your gardens to help avoid disease and insect issues. It might be helpful to draw out what you will plant. Your drawing does not have to be to scale, just so you get the actual distances and the spacing of the plants you choose. We may not be able to get outside and get planting just yet, but we can start to plan for the spring while we are stuck in the house.

Pumpkins

Gourds

The trees are beginning to turn beautiful fall colors, the leaves are beginning to fall, and scary movies are starting to come back into the theatres. This must mean Halloween is on its way.

The best part of Halloween, to me, is the pumpkins. I love the smell of a freshly carved pumpkin and the look of the carved pumpkins on my front steps lit up for Halloween night. Pumpkins can be used for a variety of things throughout October and November and they can be grown in your garden right in your own backyard.

Pumpkins are a member of the cucurbit family of garden plants, which includes cucumbers, squash, gourds, watermelons, cantaloupes, and zucchini. We can use them for eating, roasting the seeds, and carving for a Halloween decoration. We can also store them and use them for Thanksgiving decorations.

Flickr image courtesy of Robert S. Donovan per CC license

Flickr image courtesy of Robert S. Donovan per CC license

If you grow pumpkins in your garden, it is now time to begin harvesting them, if you haven’t already started. Pumpkins can be harvested when they are mature in color and when they have a firm rind, when your fingernail does not puncture the rind when lightly pushed into it. It is best to remove all pumpkins prior to or within 1-2 days after a killing frost. Cut pumpkins off of the rind leaving 3-4 inches of stem on the pumpkin to help them resist organisms that lead to decay.

After the pumpkins are harvested, they should be cured to last longer in storage. Leave pumpkins in an area where they receive 80-85 degree temperatures with 80-90 percent relative humidity for 10 days. Pumpkins will store if not cured, but they will store longer, up to 3 months, if they are cured first. After cured, they are best stored in areas of 50-55 degree temperatures.

It is best to use the correct pumpkin for the task, such as using a jack-o-lantern pumpkin for carving and a processing pumpkin for making pies. Both types of pumpkins can be used for either activity, but they work better if you get the right type for the task at hand. However, you do not want to carve a pumpkin and use it for Halloween and then use it for making a pumpkin pie. A carved pumpkin is a perishable item, therefore cannot be used for baking or cooking if it has been left out, after being carved into, for more than 2 hours.

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Many people are concerned about the length of time a carved pumpkin will last on their front porch. The problem is that there isn’t a good treatment to get them to hold that carving for very long. The best idea is to wait until no more than one week before Halloween until you carve your pumpkin. It is best for the carving if you can do it as close to Halloween as possible. Another thing that will help with longevity of a pumpkin for Halloween is to ensure that you purchase or pick a pumpkin in good condition. Avoid pumpkins with soft spots, signs of decay, short stems, and other signs to show that decay has already begun in the pumpkin. If decay is already present in the pumpkin before you carve into it, it will ruin your carving that much sooner. If the weather is warm outside, store the pumpkins in a cool area until Halloween to keep the carving intact. Hopefully all of these tips can help you grow a great pumpkin and have a great pumpkin for Halloween. Happy Halloween!