Pumpkins, Spiders, and Mums

Halloween Pumpkins

Now that October is here, we begin to get prepared for Halloween, a day which I personally enjoy. Pumpkins, spiders, and fall flowers are all part of this festival. So, I won’t miss the chance to help you with your holiday decorations and traditions.

Pumpkins

2017-10-28 19.10.50Pumpkins can be used for so many things including carving, decoration, pies, and many other food products. If planted later in the summer growing season, your pumpkins should just be maturing, or have matured within the last couple of weeks. If you are unsure, pumpkins are mature when the rind is hard and can resist penetration from a fingernail.

Pumpkins do need to be harvested prior to a hard frost. They can be ok out on the vine for a light frost, but a hard frost will damage the pumpkin and can damage storage potential and more likely cause the pumpkins to rot. They should be cut off the vine. Do not cut the vine too close to the pumpkin, this can also cause the pumpkin to decay sooner.

If you didn’t grow the pumpkin yourself, check over the pumpkins you are purchasing. Look for good rind with no puncture wounds. Ensure that the pumpkin has a bit of stem attached to the top and choose the correct pumpkin for the use you have in mind for it. Pie pumpkins are best for baking while jack-o-lantern types will be better for carving and for decorations.

Spiders

Wolf Spider, UNL ENTO
Wolf Spider photo by Jim Kalisch, UNL Entomology

Spiders always come to mind at Halloween as a decoration and because they become a problem inside our homes with the cool fall weather. The most common spider that people bring into my office to be identified is the wolf spider. These are one of the largest species of spiders that we will find in Nebraska. They are quite hairy and often times will have 2 white or lighter brown colored stripes down the back of the spider. There are some wolf spiders that can be the size of a half dollar or more, legs and all. These spiders are not poisonous, but they can bite. Most often, a wolf spider will not bite us, but if they do the reaction is usually similar to a large mosquito bite.

Spiders are actually beneficial, but not often desired. They feed on other insects and pests that can move into our homes. The best way to control a spider population indoors is through habitat modification, meaning to seal up all cracks and crevices in your home foundation and around windows and doors to ensure that the spiders don’t move into your home. You can also use the indoor/outdoor barrier sprays to spray around the foundation of your home and around the windows and doors to reduce spider populations inside your home. Also, sticky traps are a great way to manage spider populations indoors. 

Mums

orange mum, pixabay

Mums are not the scary holiday tradition that spiders and pumpkins are, but they are a common decoration for the fall, including Halloween. Garden mums grow up to 18 inches tall and 30 inches wide and grow into a clump. The flowers are 2-3 inches across and can be found in many colors including white, yellow, orange, pink, purple, coral, and deep burgundy red depending on the variety. Mums need to be pinched back in the early summer to help keep the plants to a compact and uniform size and shape and to help flowering. Pinching should be done 2-3 times in June. It should begin when the plants are 5-6 inches high and it should be discontinued around the 4th of July.

Many gardeners struggle with maintaining their mum plants over the winter due to repeated freezing and thawing cycles through the growing season as well as wet, heavy soil or lack or snow cover. Longevity of the plants can be enhanced by planting them in a location that is more protected from north winds, discontinuing fertilization by the end of July to reduce new growth at the end of the season, adding several inches of mulch to the soil around the plants through the winter months, and cutting the plants back in the spring rather than in the fall.

Yard and Garden: June 8, 2018

Y&G Blog Photo, 2018

This is the Q&A for the Yard and Garden show for June 8, 2018. 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 3, 2018. 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: Donnie Engelhardt, Assistant Water Resources Director, Little Blue NRD

1.The first caller of the show heard of a chemical that can be used to treat bindweed that started with a Q. What is that product?

A. Quinclorac is the active ingredient in a product called Drive. It is effective at controlling bindweed. However, this product is only labeled for use in lawns and cannot be legally or safely used in landscape beds or vegetable gardens.

He also is having a problem with his peach tree, it didn’t leaf out on the one side. The damage is also seen in some hydrangeas planted nearby. What is causing this?

A. This could be due to herbicide damage. If multiple types of plants in different families, genus’, and species are all affected the same it is often due to herbicide drift. There is nothing that can be done now to fix the problem, leave them to see if they grow out of the damage.

This first caller’s final question is that he has 3 pear trees that he ordered from a mail order catalog and one has not leafed out still. Is it dead?

A. This one that died could have dried out during transport. I would assume by now it would have leafed out if it was still alive. Scrape the bark off some of the smaller branches, if they are green there is still life in the tree, if it is brown, the tree is dead. Also, if the branches bend rather than break they are still alive.

2. A caller is looking to plant some new trees for shade, preferably something fast growing. When should they buy and plant these new trees?

A. Purchase your plant material when you are ready to plant. If the plant has to sit in the pot longer, it can lead to more problems with it drying out. The best times to plant a tree would be either in the spring or fall. At this point, it would be best to wait until fall, like September – later October. Planting now would be difficult to keep the tree watered through the heat/drought of the summer. Fast growth is not always the best option. Fast growing trees are not as strong as the slower growing trees and tend to break more in storms. Slower growing trees can actually put on quite a bit of growth in a few short years if they are kept with a 2-3 inch mulch ring and kept well watered. For good tree choices, view this guide from the Nebraska Forest Service.

3. This caller has Iris’ that have finished blooming, can they be cut back now? They also have some mums that died over the winter, why is that?

A. Once Iris’ and peonies’ have finished blooming for the year, the flower stalk can be cut off at the ground level. However, the leaves need to be left there to build energy in the roots for next spring. Some mums are just not as hardy as believed. Many gardeners struggle with maintaining their mum plants over the winter due to repeated freezing and thawing cycles through the growing season as well as wet, heavy soil or lack or snow cover. Longevity of the plants can be enhanced by planting them in a location that is more protected from north winds, discontinuing fertilization by the end of July to reduce new growth at the end of the season, adding several inches of mulch to the soil around the plants through the winter months, and cutting the plants back in the spring rather than in the fall.

4. Should the blooms of small tomato plants be pinched off?

A. Removing those blossoms until the plants get a little more growth on them will help the plants develop more roots and more shoot growth before pushing so much energy into producing the fruits. Wait until they get a little bigger before allowing those flowers to develop into fruits.

2016-04-02 10.11.52
Redbud Tree

5. A caller has a redbud tree that was planted last year and has not leafed out yet this year. It is, however, producing suckers at the base of the tree. Can those suckers be grown into a new tree? Also, how should trees be fertilized?

A. This could be a winterkill issue. Be sure to purchase redbuds from a local source. Often box stores purchase redbud trees from a Southern source and send them to all stores in the United States. If a tree was started further south than where it will be planted, it will not adjust well to the change in climate from the south to here. The sucker will grow into a new tree. Redbuds will do better with this than some. Often the suckers from a tree may not be as strong as the main tree and will not do as well, but with a redbud it should be fine. Fertilizer is rarely needed for trees in Southeast Nebraska. I would especially avoid fertilizer on a stressed tree, such as this redbud. Fertilizing a stressed tree will lead to further stress.

6. When is the best time to prune suckers from the maple trees and when is the best time to prune the lower branches from a spruce tree so the mower can fit below it?

A. Anytime is a good time to prune suckers from a tree. It is best to just continually prune them off as they form. If you leave them, they take energy from the tree. You can prune spruce trees most anytime of the year. However, if you are just looking to prune them so you can mow under the tree, if you leave them the tree will provide it’s own mulch and the grass will not grow under the high shade of the tree.

7. This caller wants to know what to do with peonies now and if ants are needed for the flowers to open on a peony?

A. At this point with a peony, cut off the stalks of the flowers and leave the leaves there. The leaves should be left to grow and produce energy for the plant so it can come out and flower early next spring. Leaves of peony plants can be removed in the fall when they turn brown and die back naturally. No, ants are not necessary for the buds of peony flowers to open. That is just a myth because ants are commonly found on the flowers, but they just like the sweet nectar.

8. A caller planted mums last year, they looked great through the season. This year only 2 came back. What is wrong with them?

A. Some mums are just not as hardy as believed and they often die due to winterkill. Many gardeners struggle with maintaining their mum plants over the winter due to repeated freezing and thawing cycles through the growing season as well as wet, heavy soil or lack or snow cover. Longevity of the plants can be enhanced by planting them in a location that is more protected from north winds, discontinuing fertilization by the end of July to reduce new growth at the end of the season, adding several inches of mulch to the soil around the plants through the winter months, and cutting the plants back in the spring rather than in the fall.

9. The last caller of the day has peppers planted in a mineral tub that are looking wilted. They are green and growing well but have droopy leaves. What is wrong with them?

A. Through discussion, it was noted that these peppers are planted in a container with soil from the backyard, not potting soil. It would be best to use a soil mix rather than soil from the ground. Potting soil has more nutrients available and is more porous for better plant growth. Adding fertilizer to his plants may help.

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.

Burning Bush- 4
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.

Yard and Garden: May 6, 2016

Yard & Garden for blog

This is the Q&A for the Yard and Garden show for May 6, 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: Jennifer Morris, Forest Health Specialist for the Nebraska Forest Service

1. The first caller of the day has peach, plum, and apple trees that were recently planted. Should she use tree spikes for fertilizer for the trees and when should that be done?

A. Fertilizer for a tree is usually not necessary in Nebraska soils. Let nature take its course to naturally fertilize the tree. Fertilizer should only be used on trees, or any plant, as it is necessary. A plant can be damaged or even killed if they have too much of a particular nutrient, so it is best to do a soil test prior to applying any type of fertilizer to your plant.

2. A caller has grasshoppers in his lawn and has problems with large populations in the past, but he also has beehives nearby where he would want to spray to control the grasshoppers. Can he treat the grasshoppers and not harm the bees?

A. Insecticides that are commonly used as sprays for grasshopper control are very toxic to bees. You should only use insecticides for the grasshoppers in this situation for serious situations where chemical control is necessary. If sprays are warranted, you would want to do so on a calm day so the spray does not drift to the bees and mow the lawn first to reduce flower heads present that could get pesticides on them to get onto the foraging bees.

3. There is a caller who wants to plant some new apple trees. The trees he currently has continue to face problems with cedar-apple rust. What tree cultivars should he choose that will not have the problems with this disease?

A. There are many apple trees that are resistant to cedar-apple rust. When planting a new apple tree it is best to go in with a tree that is resistant to this disease because cedar trees are common in Nebraska, which is the alternate host. This allows most any apple or crabapple tree to be vulnerable to the disease. For resistant cultivars, see page 3 of this NebGuide on Cedar-apple rust by Amy Timmerman.

4. A caller wanted to know if they can use Roundup (or other glyphosate product) in their garden to kill pampas grass? Can it be wiped onto the stalks of the plant and not harm the peonies or raspberries that are growing with the pampas grass?

A. Yes, it can be used among raspberries and peonies, but it needs to be carefully applied so that you don’t get it on the leaves or other plant parts of the desirable plants. Painting the glyphosate product onto the leaves of the pampas grass will work into killing the grass and will keep it from getting onto the desirable plants. Grass-b-gone may work for it in the peonies and can be sprayed directly over the peonies and cause no harm to them, however this product should not be used in crops that are used for food or feed.

5. A caller has a mum growing on the east side of their house and it didn’t come back. Why is that?

A. Some of our mums are not as hardy as others. This may have been one of the lesser hardy mum plants. This mum was also moved in the fall so it may not have been ready for the winter after being moved or it could be planted in a more exposed location. If there is no green showing in the plant at this point, I would assume it is dead and it is time to replant.

6. A walk-in clientele asked what the orange pods were on her cedar tree? She also wanted to know if she should remove the cedar tree or if she can treat it?

A. This is the gall of the cedar-apple rust disease. In the rainy portion of the spring these show up to release the spores of the disease to move to apple trees. This disease is not harmful to the cedar tree so no treatment and definitely no removal of the tree is necessary.

7. A caller wanted to know how to start a new plant from the family tree peony plant.

A. Prune off a branch of the peony and place it into rooting hormone and then into soil or into a pot of gravel that is kept moist to start roots. Once roots have begun, the plant can be planted into the ground.

8. This caller has a 12-15 year old apple tree that has bark on the trunk that is splitting on the southwest side of the trunk. What would cause this and is it harmful to the tree? He also has a tree that has holes in the trunk that are in a row and about the size of a pencil. What is this from?

A. The holes in a line on the trunk of a tree would be from a yellow-bellied sapsucker, a type of woodpecker. This is not harmful to the tree and has no management strategy. As for the bark splitting on the apple tree, this sounds like sunscald. This is a disease that occurs in the winter when the cells in the bark freeze and thaw quickly and bursts the cells causing the split. There is no control for this and the trees will typically live a long, happy life after this occurs but the scar will remain for the life of the tree.

9. The final caller of the day has a windbreak with evergreens that were planted 9 years ago and they are too close together. What is the recommended spacing for trees in a windbreak?

A. 14-16 feet between trees is the average spacing requirement at this point. You need to maintain that distance so that when the trees are full sized they don’t overlap each other too much which can cause more disease problems.