Nebraska Weather Effects on Plants

Crazy Weather blog

This year the weather has been crazy. We saw 70’s in February followed by 30’s and snow in the middle of March. The warm weather was great, but it got all of us in the mood for spring, including our plants. Now that we have seen such a cool down, our plants may be the ones most affected.

We have seen early budding in many of our shade trees and shrubs, which often happens with above average winter and spring temperatures. This can be problematic for the plant. If the swelling or opening up of buds occurs prior to a cold snap, it can cause damage to that particular bud. If those buds that were opening up were flower buds, we may lose the flowers on that shrub or tree for the year. However, if those buds were leaf buds, those plants may be set back on their emergence and growth for the year. If leaf buds were damaged, a healthy tree will set new, secondary buds to push growth but it will be later in the season than normal. As long as the tree is healthy it will be fine. But, there is nothing you can do to stop this condition.

Red maple, bugwood

Photo from: Chris Evans, Illinois Wildlife Action Plan, Bugwood.org

This warm up, cool down cycle is stressful to our plants. So, it is a good idea to help keep your plants otherwise healthy. Make sure your trees and shrubs are properly mulched and kept well watered in the absence of rain.

Another issue that we are dealing with this spring with the rapidly changing environment, is the advanced emergence from dormancy of spring bulbs prior to this latest cold snap. There is nothing you can do regarding this issue either. The bulbs that have already begun to bloom may lose their flowers early or have some freeze damage. These bulbs may also experience some leaf dieback. Tulips and daffodils are normally a spring blooming plant, so they are accustomed to normal spring freezes adapting to temperatures as low as the upper 20’s. However, if we see anything lower than that, these plants may exhibit freeze damage on the leaves, showing up as white, limp leaves. Do not cut back the damaged leaves until the foliage dies back on its own.

Finally, we have started to see many of our perennial plants emerging and greening up for the spring already. Much of this growth occurred before the cold snap last week. As for these plants, I would advise you to just leave them alone. If there is a forecast for very low temperatures, it would benefit the plants to add additional mulch or a row cover over them for the overnight hours, pulling that back during the day as the temperatures warm up. If you didn’t remove the plant material last fall, leave it there now until the spring, even as they green up below it. If you expose the crown of the plant that has been covered by the dead plant material all winter long, cold snaps will be more problematic for the plants. The dead plant material and extra mulch the plant has had over the winter months will protect it from freezing and thawing and from very cold temperatures this late in the season. It is best to wait until we are more consistently facing spring weather before removing this plant blanket they have had all winter.

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.

Spring Preparations for Lawn and Garden

2013-05-09 10.17.11

We have finally reached March, and the beginning of spring is right around the corner. We don’t want to get out and do too many things in our yards and gardens too early in the year, but there are some things to bring you out of cabin fever. Here is a listing of our usually spring activities and when the best time to do them would be.

We can now begin to start our seeds indoors for transplants into our gardens later in the spring. Remember, we want to wait until Mother’s Day to plant most of our vegetables outside, unless they are cool season crops. You should start things like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and head lettuce indoors about 10 weeks prior to transplanting outside. Other plants such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants can be started indoors 6-7 weeks in advance of planting outdoors. Vegetables such as watermelons, cantaloupe, cucumbers, zucchini, squash, and beans should be planted from seed directly into the garden in May. Peas and other cool season vegetables can be planted in the middle to the end of March. The saying is that you can plant your peas and potatoes on St. Patrick’s Day, or some say Good Friday. Either day would be fine to plant your peas and potatoes from the middle to the end of March.

2014-03-04 11.18.22

Roses can also be pruned back at this time of the year. The best time to prune roses is February to March or in early spring. When you prune your roses, start by removing all the dead, diseased, or damaged branches.   If it is a dead or diseased branch, cut back at least one inch below the dead area and above a live bud. If there are no live buds, cut the entire cane out. After that, you should prune up to one-third of the older branches and canes.

Other types of shrubs can be pruned next month, in April. Things such as honeysuckle, ninebark, barberry, and burning bush should be pruned in the early spring. To prune these types of shrubs, we should cut out the older canes and ones that are dead. As with roses, we need to make sure that we are only cutting out one third of the plant. If it is a plant that blooms in the spring, such as forsythia, lilac and spring-blooming spirea, we should wait to prune it until just after it has flowered.

Turf can be overseeded or reseeded from the end of March through the beginning of April. Be sure that you are buying certified weed free seed. The best grass choices for eastern Nebraska are either 100% tall fescue, 90% tall fescue with 10% Kentucky bluegrass, 100% Kentucky bluegrass, or 100% buffalograss. Mixes are alright to use in Nebraska, but you want to make sure it is a good mix. If you purchase a mix, avoid any that contain annual bluegrass, ‘Linn’ perennial ryegrass, or ‘Kenblue’ Kentucky bluegrass. After you have mowed one time on the new seed, you can then put your crabgrass pre-emergent herbicide down to control crabgrass for the year. Wait to use 2,4-D products on your newly seeded lawn areas until after you have mowed at least three times on the new turf.

 

Preparing for Spring Gardening

Yes, I said ‘Spring Gardening’, it will be here before we know it.  Our seed catalogs have already started appearing!  We can now start to think about gardening outdoors in the nice warm spring weather.  Anything that helps us look toward warmer weather and away from below freezing temperatures, the snow and ice that comes with winter, is a welcomed experience.  It is at this time of year that we can begin to prepare for a summer full of beautiful blooms and delicious gardens.  It is a good time to plan for spring gardening so that by the time we are ready to start our seeds or plant outdoors, we will have everything we need already, especially if you are ordering any portion of your garden plants.

Site Assessment

Photo of a site assessment from the National Junior Horticulture Association

A good indoor activity to do in the late winter months of January and February would be to plan your gardens.

  • Decide where the garden will be located
  • Locate gardens in close proximity to a water supply
  • Locate gardens where it gets the proper amount of light for the vegetables or flowers you plan to grow in that location
  • Make sure there is enough space for all of the plants to grow and they can be spaced apart properly, according to the directions on the seed packet or plant container
    • Plants too close together, can have problems with diseases
    • Air movement through the plants causing them to stay wet, humid, and warm, is the perfect environment for a disease to grow.
  • Locate the garden where the soil has good organic matter, fertility, and a good level of pH so that the garden is not too acidic nor to basic.
    • If you are concerned about the condition of your soil, you can send a sample into the soil diagnostic clinic
    • For information regarding soil samples, please visit your local extension office

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Beyond the location of the garden, you need to decide what types of plants you are going to be planting in your garden.  For vegetable gardens, plant what you like to eat.  Look through your seed catalogs to see if there are some new or different varieties that you would like to try that have different coloration than what you are used to or varieties that grow larger fruits.  Along with the selection of different varieties, select varieties that are resistant to certain diseases.  The disease resistant varieties are great to have because you will still get a crop when the conditions are favorable for a disease to occur.  When selecting these seeds you need to make sure that you are selecting varieties that will survive in our climate.  This is usually given to you as a hardiness zone indication, in southeast Nebraska we are in zone 5b for hardiness, further north in Nebraska is in zone 5a, with portions of the panhandle area being in zone 4b, the dividing line between zones 5b and 5a in Nebraska is roughly Interstate 80.

2013 USDA Hardiness Zone Map

I know that we are all getting excited for spring and would like to begin our seedlings indoors sometime soon, but it is still a little bit early for that.  Seedlings should be started indoors 6-10 weeks prior to transplanting outdoors, which should occur no sooner than Mother’s Day, May 11, 2014.  Stay tuned in late February or early March for my blog to feature tips on starting your seeds indoors.  Now is the time to order your seed so it is here when you are ready to plant it.