Mulch

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When I think about spring, I always think about planting. It is fun, stress relieving, and rewarding for me to get my hands dirty and plant some new plants or change what I have in my garden. One thing to always remember when planting a garden or cleaning up an existing one is the mulch.

Mulch is a great benefit to our plants. Mulch can help work as insulation for our plants through the winter months, protect them from lawnmower blight, hold moisture near the plants, and reduce weed competition.

In the winter months, mulch is helpful to keep our plants insulated from freezing temperatures. However, mulch does not necessarily keep the roots of the plants warm, it keeps the temperatures from constantly freezing and thawing. In the winter months, freezing and thawing of the soil can push the plant out of the soil in a condition called frost heaving. This can expose the crown to winter temperatures and possibly kill the plant. We often add extra mulch during the winter months to help protect our plants more. The plants then are adjusted to growing in the conditions under the extra mulch, which is why it is important to wait to uncover them for the spring. If the plants start to green up under the mulch or pop through the mulch you can pull the mulch back away from the plants, leaving it nearby to cover the plants back up if freezing temperatures are predicted again. It is best to wait until early May to fully uncover those plants, once the threat of frost has passed for the year.

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Tree damage from Lawn Mower Blight

Mulch also helps protect our plants from a condition we refer to as ‘lawnmower blight’. Lawnmower blight often occurs to our trees and shrubs growing right in the turf with no mulch around them. It is when the mower or weed trimmer gets too close to plants damaging the trunk or branches of the shrub. This damage disrupts the flow of water and nutrients through the tree, but it usually does not kill the plant. Having the mulch ring will keep the lawn equipment back away from the tree.

 

Mulch is also great for our plants during the spring and summer months to help keep moisture near the plant and reduce competition from other plants around the tree or other desired plants. Wood chips will hold moisture that will eventually be released back out to the plants for extended water availability. The layer of mulch will also help reduce competition for water, nutrients, and space from other plants growing nearby. Turf is included as a competition for our landscape plants. It is best for the overall health of our desired plants to keep the competition limited around the roots.

Mulch needs to be applied correctly to help the plants, if applied incorrectly it can damage them. A layer of mulch 2-3 inches deep is the recommendation. Too deep and you can start to starve the roots of oxygen and the roots may begin to grow in the mulch out of the soil. If the mulch is applied to shallow, weeds will come up through it. Avoid mulch volcanoes which can cause a great deal of damage to the plant. Coarse textured mulches are better for plants than fine textured mulches which can become compacted, reduce oxygen to the plants, and allow more weeds to penetrate.

Organic mulches are preferred over inorganic mulches. Organic mulches would include wood chips, straw, leaves, and untreated grass clippings. Inorganic mulches such as rock or crushed rubber would not give the benefits to plants that organic mulches would. Inorganic mulches do not hold onto water and they make the plants and the roots much hotter in the summer and reflect that heat onto the plant causing more drought and heat stress to the plants. Inorganic mulches would be best used in xeric landscapes and rock gardens.

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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 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.

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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.

Yard and Garden: May 22, 2015

Yard and Garden Green Logo

This is the Q&A for the Yard and Garden show for May 15, 2015. 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 July 31, 2015. 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: Kevin Korus, Diagnostician for the UNL Plant & Pest Diagnostic Lab

1. A caller with a river birch that is 5-6 years old was planted with 3 trunks and now it has 5 trunks. Should those be removed or will it harm the tree?

A: River birch trees are commonly grown as a multi-trunked tree. If additional trunks appear, they can be left on or cut off with no problems for the tree, as long as they don’t grow too large before they are removed. If the trunks to be removed have grown to be 1/3 of the tree or more or the trunks are 1/2 the size or larger than the main trunk, you would not want to remove these as that would be removing too much of the tree in one growing season and can cause more problems to the tree than benefits. If they are not in the way, I would suggest leaving all 5 trunks.

2. A gentleman wanted to know how and when to prune blackberries and raspberries. He has raspberries that have died from the top downward on some branches with green growth at the base of the plant. What should he do about this?

A: The top dieback would likely be due to water stress or winterkill which occurs during the winter months when we see little moisture. As for general pruning, there is a great guide from the University of Missouri Extension to describe the many practices of pruning brambles, Pruning Raspberries, Blackberries, Gooseberries, Currants, and Elderberries.

3. This caller has amaryllis bulbs that were growing great and now the leaves are starting to turn yellow. What is the cause of this and how can she stop it from happening?

A: This plant is likely in need of a fertilizer treatment. They should receive regular fertilization with a houseplant fertilizer. Also make sure that the plant isn’t sitting in water. Amaryllis plants should be watered when the top two inches of soil are dry to the touch.

4. This caller has Weigela ‘Wine and Roses’ that she had trimmed last fall. Now one of them is only greening up at the bottom of the plant, why is this?

A: This plant is suffering from winterkill. As long as the bottom is greening up, the plant should be fine. Those dead branches can be removed back to green growth or back to the ground if there is no green on the branch at all. Remember to keep plants watered on the warm days when we face a dry winter like we did last year.

5. This caller was curious about rhubarb. How long in the year do you harvest rhubarb in the year or can you continue to harvest all year long? When should they be transplanted? What do you do when seed stalks appear on the plant?

A: You can harvest the plant until the plant begins to produce slender stalks. After that the plant needs to be left alone to replenish the sugars and nutrients to continue growing and produce next year. The stalks can be cut off or they can be pulled off. When the seed stalks appear on the plants, they should be removed. The production of seed stalks takes energy from the plant to make the seeds rather than leaving it to produce leaves and the stalks. Transplanting rhubarb is best done in the spring of the year. Avoid harvesting for the first growing season after transplanting and only do light harvest in the second season. By the third season, harvest can resume as normal. This is to allow the plant to get a good root system developed before loosing much of its leaf area.

6. This caller has a pin oak tree that is 45 years old. He added a mulch ring to the tree recently and wanted to know if rock mulch or wood chip mulch is better for the tree?

A: Any mulch is better than no mulch. Wood chip mulches keep the roots cooler and hold in more moisture than the rock mulches, but the rock mulches will not blow away or need to be replenished each year like the wood chip mulches. Either way keep the mulch only 2-3 inches deep.

7. This caller wanted to know how far apart to plant her asparagus? She planted hers 1.5 feet apart, is this too far apart?

A: Asparagus should be about 6-8 inches deep and 12-18 inches apart. There isn’t a problem with planting it too far apart, the problem would occur if they are planted too close together. Plants not spaced correctly can lead to disease problems.

Landscape Winter Watering

Magnolia Tree in Winter 2With October over now, we look toward November and December and the snowy, cold, icy weather that comes with it.  Most people believe that once winter weather begins, our plants no longer need any watering.  However, if we are not receiving much natural precipitation and the weather is warm enough to thaw the ground during the day, we do need to supplement water to our plants.

If we consistently have snow cover on our lawns throughout the winter, there is no need to worry about watering our plants.  However, if we don’t see much snow throughout the winter, we need to water our plants.  Some of the plants that are most affected by winter desiccation include maples, lindens, dogwoods, willows, and paper birches.  It is most important to water newly planted trees and shrubs throughout the winter, versus watering all of your older, more established plants.  However, if it is a very dry winter, all of your trees and shrubs would benefit from a watering at least once a month throughout the late fall and winter months.

Tips for Watering in the Winter Months:

  • Water only when the temperatures reach 40 degrees Fahrenheit or above
  • Water during the middle of the day to allow all of the water to soak in prior to freezing at night
  • Water with a hose or a watering can or bucket, do not use your irrigation system in the winter or you will have to drain the pipes again and you have more of a chance to break the pipes due to freezing.

We also need to do other things to protect our plants during the winter.  We need to make sure we cover around the base of our trees and shrubs with a layer of mulch.  This layer should only be 3 inches deep, any deeper than that and you can acquire problems with mice and voles getting into that layer and causing damage to your trees and shrubs.  Remember that plants with a hollow stem should not be pruned back until the early spring rather than in the fall.  This includes butterfly bush and many of our roses.  If these are pruned back in the fall, they could get moisture into those hollow stems and freeze and thaw throughout the winter which could crack the crown and kill the plant.

tree wrappingYou may also want to wrap the trunk of young, thin barked trees.  Sunscald is a problem that occurs when the tree gets too warm on the south and west sides of the trunk in the winter.  The cells on the sunny side of the trunk warm up and begin to become active in the winter and then freeze in the evening.  This problem can cause a canker to develop on the trunk of the tree.  Sunscald can easily be prevented by wrapping those thin barked, young trees during the winter with the white tree wrap to keep it cooler and shaded on those warmer, sunny days in the winter.

Photo by Sarah Browning, Lancaster County Extension