Planning Your Gardens

January can be difficult. There is never much to do, we can’t go outside and garden, and being indoors too much starts to give us all a bit of cabin fever. This is the perfect time to plan your garden or improvements to existing gardens.

Think from the inside out

A few years ago, I traveled with some Extension colleagues on a learning tour to Colorado. We visited a garden where they had all of these fake houses set up with landscapes around them. The idea was to get people thinking about their gardens looking from the outside in. To look at how different gardens can look to visitors at your house. However, it was also intended to help people think about gardens from the inside out as well.

We often plan our gardens around what the garden looks like in the spring or summer and even in the fall, but we rarely plan our gardens around what it will look like in the winter. Season-long interest is important to remember when planning your garden. The winter lasts for quite a few months and we should plan our gardens to have some type of plant interest in the winter months so we have something to look at from inside our homes to enjoy, even on cold, snowy days. We need to think about how our landscapes look from our windows too, because why should visitors and passersby be the ones getting the most from your landscape.

Plants for winter interest

Evergreen plants will give you some color and texture over the winter months to liven up the brown or white environment. Some good choices include yews, boxwood, barberry, spruce, pine, and the junipers. There are many great selections of all of these plants to fit in different spaces in your landscape and for different forms. In the junipers alone, you can find groundcover types, small shrubs, large shrubs, trees and many choices of green color in these.

Plants with berries are good for the winter as well. Holly plants are great for the holidays, but can last through the winter with red berries on green plants. Other good berry plants for winter interest include winterberry, snowberry and coralberry. Also, don’t forget one of my favorites for winter interest, red-twig dogwood or if you prefer yellow-twig dogwood. Both give fun colors to the drab winter environment.

To have winter interest in your garden doesn’t just mean to plant things that are overly colorful. This can be achieved by gardening practices as well. Leave your plant life through the winter months to have seed heads present through the winter. One of the easiest and most interesting types of plants for this would be the native grasses. Big and Little bluestem, miscanthus or maidenhair grass, sideoats grama, switchgrass, and even pampas grass is very interesting to look at through the winter months and stands tall through most snow.

Planning for Gardening season

2019-01-29 16.54.34Obviously, now isn’t the time to plant your garden, but you can start to think about your viewpoints and what needs more interest from your indoor viewpoint in the winter. This is the perfect time to start planning that, you have plenty of time to map it out and the seed catalogs are coming in the mail every day to give you more plant ideas. If nothing else, it helps you see the light at the end of the tunnel, spring will come soon.

*Disclaimer ­- Reference to any specific brand named product does not constitute endorsement, recommendation, favoring or implied criticism if similar products are not mentioned by Nebraska Extension in Gage County.  Identifying specific pesticides are for the convenience of the reader and are generally most commonly available.  Always read and follow the pesticide label.

Join the Master Gardener Program

Gardening is so much fun and can bring joy to everyone who passes by your garden. It is also a great way to get outside and be active. If you are one who enjoys gardening and would like to learn more about it you might be interested in the Extension Master Gardener program. It is a great way to connect with other gardeners, learn more about gardening, and volunteer to improve community garden spaces and educate others about the things learned in the classes.

The Nebraska Extension Master Gardener program is a horticulture related volunteer training program based in many counties throughout the state. It has been part of Nebraska Extension since 1976. Extension Master Gardener volunteers are trained by Nebraska Extension faculty and staff who then take that knowledge gained to volunteer in their community. They contribute time as volunteers working with their local Extension office to provide horticulture-related information to their community. Participants are required to complete 40 hours of training and 40 hours of volunteer service to become an Extension Master Gardener. In Beatrice and Wilber, this is completed by 20 hours of each education and volunteer service throughout the first two years of their involvement while they are an intern in the program. Extension Master Gardener volunteers retain their certification through a minimum of 10 hours of educational training and 20 hours of volunteering annually.

Each year the Master Gardener program is held throughout the state, including many locations in southeast Nebraska. The programs are held from 6:30-9:00pm on Tuesday nights at the Gage County Extension Office in Beatrice. This year the programs run from February 4-March 17. The schedule for the classes is as follows:

February 4- Introduction & Insects in the Garden– Nicole Stoner

February 11- Landscape Management – Terri James

February 18- Rots and Spots – Kyle Broderick

February 25- Soils – Becky Young

March 3- Bugs – Jody Green

March 10- Dividing Herbaceous Perennials – Miranda Earnest

March 17- Galls – Nicole Stoner

This class will also be provided in Wilber following the same schedule on Wednesday afternoons from 1-3:30pm. It will run from February 12-March 25 at the Saline County Extension Office. There are also many other opportunities and locations to take the Master Gardener Classes. Please contact Nicole if you are interested or if you would like to find another location for the classes.

The cost of the Master Gardener program is $160 for the first year, which includes a book, t-shirt, and nametag. For returning Master Gardeners the cost is just $15. Please contact Nicole at the Gage County Extension office at 402-223-1384 to sign up for the program. The deadline for enrollment into the class is January 31, 2020.

Insects in Christmas trees and Firewood

Christmas is a wonderful, joyous holiday. Most people really enjoy decorating for the holidays, and put a Christmas tree in their homes. Real Christmas trees are a fun tradition for many families during the holiday season, providing us holiday scent of spruce or pine. Remember, these trees are from nature. Sometimes it can bring too much nature into your homes, such as insects and spiders.

Insects on Christmas trees

It is rare to bring insects into your home on a Christmas tree, but it can occur. The most common pests found on freshly cut trees would be aphids and spiders. Neither of these pests would cause us any harm or populate in the home. They are coming from eggs that were laid on the tree in the fall. Once the tree warms up in the home, the insects emerge, thinking it is spring. Because they are in the home and not outside, these pests will die of starvation or desiccation, drying out.

There are practices in place by the grower to ensure there are no insects on the trees. However, these insects are on the tree as tiny eggs in the field and the growers have many trees, once in a great while an insect may be missed.

Managing Insects from Christmas Trees

Spiders and Aphids will not harm us in our homes. As stated, they will likely die soon after emergence indoors. There really is no need to control them other than hand removal if you see them. It would help to shake out the tree prior to bringing it indoors to remove insects found on the tree.

Insects on Firewood

Flickr image courtesy of Shay Sowden per CC license

Many people also enjoy a fire in the fireplace for the Christmas season. I don’t have a fireplace now, but growing up, it always made the holiday more festive with a nice fire burning in the fireplace. There are many different insects that may be overwintering in the wood and some others that are using it as a food supply during the winter months. Insects that may be found in the wood you pile for your wood stoves include: bark beetles, powder post beetles, carpenter ants, wood boring beetles, and many other insects. These insects may not be active due to the cold winter temperatures, but once inside may become active again. Typically, insects in firewood will only be a nuisance pest in your home because they cannot survive in your home.

Managing insects in firewood

Insects found in your firewood are not harmful and therefore do not need to be sprayed with any type of insecticide. Do NOT spray insecticides on firewood prior to burning because the insecticide could be flammable or cause an inhalation hazard while the log burns. Insects found in the home can be controlled with sticky traps this time of the year.

The best management for insects in firewood is to only bring wood inside as you need it to avoid insects getting into your home and flying around. Don’t stack wood inside and don’t bring in multiple loads at once. Wood boring insects will not come out of the wood and begin feeding on your furniture or any other wood material, but they will be moving around in your home if you let the wood warm up too much. Wood that remains at a temperature of less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit will keep any insects inside of it at a dormant stage, meaning that they will be overwintering with no real action from the insect. If you bring too much wood into your home at a time, the wood will warm up and the insect could emerge from the wood and move around your home. If you bring only a few pieces of wood into your home at a time, you will be placing it into the fire before the insect is able to emerge and it will die in the fire.

Gardening Gifts for the Holidays

Now that we are in December, the holiday shopping season has begun. There are only a few weeks left to shop for gifts for our friends and loved ones. If you have a gardener in your family, there are some great gardening gifts you can get for them to help them out next spring.


gardening-glovesGarden Gloves are essential for any gardener. They help keep your hands from getting torn up when pruning roses or other plants with thorns. Garden gloves also keep you from getting dirt caked onto your hands. In my case, my gloves give the pruners something else to hit before cutting my finger, which is why there is a hole in my old pair. Be sure to get the type of gardening gloves that the gardener on your shopping list likes, there are so many to choose from. I have a very nice pair that are breathable and have a nitrile covering over the palm and fingers to keep my hands protected when working in the garden. I have to have a pair that fits tightly to my hand and that breathes or I will not wear them and then I will have very rough, callused hands with many scratches and wounds. My garden gloves are a must in my garden bag.

anvil-vs-bypass-pruners-michigan-state-univEvery gardener needs a good selection of pruners. Hand pruners work best for pruning small branches on many of our shrubs and to cut back herbaceous perennials. Branches cut with hand pruners should be less than ½ inch or less in width. They also work well for deadheading during the summer months. Bypass pruners are preferred to the anvil type of pruners because they are less damaging to the plant stem when pruning. The anvil type of pruners crushes the stem as it cuts and can harm the plant.

Long-handled loppers are great for making pruning cuts on medium-sized branches, those that are ½ – 2 inches in width. There are many choices in your lopper purchases. Some have a standard length and some have telescoping handles, allowing them to be used higher into the tree or deeper into the shrub. Just like with the hand pruners, the bypass loppers are better than the anvil type.

For larger pruning jobs, a handsaw will be necessary. Again, there are many different types of handsaws you can purchase. I prefer the folding type which is safer and easier to transport because it fits nicely in my gardening bag.


You may not be able to purchase the plants your gardening enthusiast desires for the holiday season, but you can purchase gift cards. Get them a gift card to their favorite nursery, garden center, or online seed source. This way they can buy the plants they really want this spring.

If this gift giving is to someone who prefers house plants, you should be able to buy those at nurseries now. Or even choose a holiday plant like a poinsettia and they can keep it going for years to come.

If your gardener can’t get out and do a lot of gardening in the ground, containers are always a great gift. There are so many fun colors, shapes, and sizes of gardening containers and they are found at most garden centers year-round. This would add more planting locations to their container gardens.

Helpful extras

A cart is another great gardening tool. There are many types of carts or wheelbarrows that can be purchased and would be put to good use in any garden. If the gardener has an ATV, you can get a trailer cart that they can drive around with the ATV.

Even if your gardener has hoses, there is always need for more. Often our hoses get holes in them or just get old and a new one would be helpful. Maybe your gardener needs soaker hoses to water their garden better. And hose end sprayers and sprinklers can make a great gift to any gardener to help water all of their plants.

Thanksgiving Meal from the Garden

Happy Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday to remind us of all the things in our lives we can be thankful for and to do so over a shared meal with friends and family. Thanksgiving is a little late for our backyard gardens, and most of us are not thinking about the garden. However it may help you to plan your garden next year so you can plant vegetables to be incorporated into your Thanksgiving dinner next year. There is nothing more fulfilling that eating a meal that came from things you harvested.

Side dishes

There are so many delicious side dishes at our Thanksgiving feasts, often too many to fit on our plates or our appetites. Most of these side dishes can be grown in your garden and frozen or stored for use at Thanksgiving. Sweet corn, green beans, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and one of my favorites, brussels sprouts can all be grown in your gardens in Nebraska. The corn and green beans should be canned or frozen just after they are harvested in the summer months. These products can then be used at the holiday. Brussels sprouts are typically harvested in the fall, they can withstand temperatures down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit. So they can be grown through the season and harvested fresh to be used in your Thanksgiving dinner. Once they have been harvested, they can be stored for 3-5 weeks at 32 degrees and 90-95% humidity.

Both kinds of potatoes can be grown in Nebraska as well. Potatoes need to be cured in a warm, humid location and then they can be stored at a cooler temperature and stored for multiple months to be used for the holiday as well.


Thanksgiving is a great time to have a slice of pumpkin or apple pie. Again, the main portion of these delicious desserts can be grown in our gardens.

Pumpkins are great for both Halloween and Thanksgiving, but not the same type of pumpkin for both. 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. Pie pumpkins are smaller, sweeter, and less watery than jack-o-lantern types of pumpkins, making them easier to bake with.

Apples can be picked from your own tree in your backyard. They can be preserved in multiple ways. People often make them into pie filling and then freeze or can that for storage and easy pie baking later on in the year. Fresh apples store fairly well under home storage conditions for up to 6 months. So they can just be harvested and stored indoors for use in our Thanksgiving pies. Later maturing varieties work best for storage in a basket or box lined with plastic. One bad apple truly can spoil the barrel because apples give off ethylene gas which speeds ripening of fruits. When damaged, that ethylene is given off more rapidly and can speed up the ripening process for the other apples stored with it. Apples will store best around 32 degrees.

So we may not be able to grow all of the parts of Thanksgiving in our backyard gardens, but a good portion can come from our homegrown fruits and vegetables. Keep this in mind when you go to plant your garden next year, what parts do you want to grow in your own backyard to preserve for Thanksgiving. And take time this Thanksgiving to be Thankful for all that you have, I know I am. Happy Thanksgiving!

*For more information on Storing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, see this NebGuide

Fallen Leaves

The fall is a great time of the year. The trees turn such beautiful fall colors and then those leaves fall to the ground. Tree leaves are fun to play in as a kid, everyone loves the crunch sound under your feet as you walk over fallen leaves. However, leaves shouldn’t be just left on top of our grass like when they fall from the tree. This can be damaging to our lawns and to surface water. So, it is best to utilize them or remove them.


Why Rake

Leaves should be removed from the turf in the fall. If left on the turf over the winter months they can smother the grass. They can also cause snow mold to develop over the winter. Raking the leaves will allow the turf to dry out on warm days with no snow cover to reduce the chance of getting snow mold.

Leaves can be a pollutant to surface water if left on the ground. Leaves left on the ground can be washed away into storm drains and other surface water locations. Fallen leaves release phosphorus and nitrogen when they decompose. If that decomposition occurs in the water, an overload of nutrients can contribute to impaired water ecology, such as excess algal growth (From Kelly Feehan, Extension Educator in Platte County Extension).

Other alternatives to raking leaves

Raking leaves can be quite a bit of work. As I drive around town, I notice some landscapes that contain quite a few trees, which as an Arborist, I love. However, in those landscapes it would take a long time to rake all of those leaves. And it really doesn’t matter when you rake up your leaves, it seems as soon as you are finished more leaves have found their way to your lawn. An easier way to do this would be to mow the leaves.

According to the UNL Turfgrass Department, mulch mowing can be easier than raking and it returns complex organic matter and nutrients to the soil. Some research also shows that mulch mowing can help control weeds. The weed control is sporadic, but it can be possible. So, this is a very beneficial alternative to raking the leaves. Mowing over the area at a higher deck height two or three times can help break down the leaves and incorporate them back into the turf for added nutrition for the lawn. Just as grass clippings don’t add to a thatch layer in the lawn, mowing over leaves and leaving them on the lawn will not add to any thatch layer in your turf.

Another use for the fallen leaves in your landscape would be to utilize them as a mulch in your gardens. You can bag them up and use them next spring or add them to your compost pile for the addition of carbon that is needed in any compost pile. Or you can rake them up and around your plants and trees for added winter protection. Be careful when you choose which leaves to use as mulch or additions to your compost pile. Leaves that were diseased this year, or had one of the many leaf spot diseases we saw this year, should not be used as mulch or in the compost pile. The compost pile will not get hot enough to kill the pathogens on those leaves and if left as a mulch around the tree, this could just reintroduce the disease to the tree next spring again. For those diseased leaves, it is best to just rake them and destroy them.

Putting the Garden to Bed

Now that fall has arrived and we have hit some very cold temperatures at night, it is time to clean up our gardens for the winter. Some things should be done this fall, but some can be left until spring. Here are a few things to do now to put your gardens to bed. 

Fall Pruning

Annual flowers can be cleaned up in fall because they die with a freeze. Perennials are best left standing until spring but some can be cleaned up now. It is nice to leave the plants over the winter for added interest and to provide food to birds. Plants such as roses and butterfly bushes that have hollow stems should be left standing and not pruned back until next spring. Precipitation can get into the hollow stems and freeze and thaw through the winter, which could crack the plant crown and lead to death. Leaving plants standing through winter will protect plants with hollow stems or with moderate hardiness to our zone. If you do chose to leave your perennial plants over the winter, be sure to wait until we are past our last spring frost before removing the plant material next spring, even if the plants green up underneath. The plant material does act as insulation and if removed too soon the plant will be more exposed to late winterkill. If removing plant material this fall, wait until it turns brown and replenish mulch to protect it over the winter. Mulch can be added up to 4-6 inches over the winter months, reduce back to 2-3 inches deep during the growing season.

People often think about pruning trees in fall. However, this isn’t the best time of the year to prune them. The optimum time for tree pruning is April, May, or June because at this time the tree can seal up the wound quickly while it is actively growing. If your tree needs to be pruned this fall, wait until the leaves have fallen from the tree to allow the tree to go completely dormant before pruning. If you are pruning an oak tree, the dormant period is the best time for pruning to avoid damage from oak wilt. Pruning evergreen shrubs is best done after they are fully dormant to avoid damage from winter injury. As for flowering shrubs, if it blooms in the spring, prune it after it blooms. If the shrub blooms in the summer, bloom in the late winter such as in February and March. 

Garden Cleanup

Now that our vegetable plants have died due to cold weather, it is time to clean up the garden. If any of your plants had disease or insect issues this summer, it is best to remove those plants and destroy them, don’t compost them. This will reduce the chance of seeing the problem again next year. Also, removing the plants from the garden at the end of the season will remove the overwintering site for insects found in the garden. Cleaning tomato cages and fences upon removal will also help remove the disease spores from the garden for next year.

After removing the plants, you may want to till your garden. If you plan to add fresh manure to your garden, that should be added in the fall rather than in the spring. So you can till your garden, add manure, and till it again to incorporate the manure into your garden soil for reduced compaction and improved organic matter content. If you till in the fall, add a layer of mulch to the garden to keep the soil from blowing off site during the winter. Grass clippings from a lawn that wasn’t treated with herbicides this year make a great mulch for the winter. You can till that back into the soil next spring before planting again.