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.

Yard and Garden: July 19, 2019

Yard & Garden blog, 2019

This is the Q&A for the Yard and Garden show for July 19, 2019. 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 2, 2019. 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: Jay Seaton, District Forester for the Lower Platte South NRD

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Blossom end rot on a developing zucchini

1. The first question of the show was regarding fruit development on zucchini. The fruits begin to develop and then one end begins to die. What is causing this?

A. This sounds like blossom end rot, it can happen in zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, watermelons, and others. Blossom end rot is when the end of your vegetable that is away from the plant rots and turns black. It occurs on the end of the vegetable that had the flower, hence the name blossom end rot. The cause of this disease is a calcium deficiency, but calcium is in the soil in sufficient quantity, uneven watering will reduce the ability of the plant to access this calcium. Calcium has to be dissolved in water for the plant to be able to obtain it from the soil. Adding calcium to your garden is not effective for managing this problem. Not all of your produce should be affected by this problem, they tend to grow out of these conditions later in the summer, so there is no need to treat your garden for blossom end rot. Maintain moisture and mulch to help with this disorder.

This caller also wondered why his pole beans are not producing yet. He shared the seed with a friend and that friend has harvested but he has not. Why is that?

A. This is likely an environmental issue. Give the plant a little more time to produce the beans. The friend’s garden would have a different microclimate from your garden it may have more sunlight or more heat radiating from a nearby building that your garden doesn’t have.

2. This caller has zucchini that is dying. They seem to have rotten roots when going to look at why they have died. She waters with a hose on trickle twice a week for 30 minutes each time. What is wrong with them?

A. This sounds like too much water is getting applied to the plants. Jay estimated that this was likely applying about 5 gallons of water per week, which is quite excessive. It would be better to use a soaker hose or measure the amount of water applied to the plants each time you let the hose trickle. Vegetable gardens only need about 1 inch of water per week.

3. A caller has pickling cucumbers that are growing good but as they grow one end of the cucumber becomes smaller than the other end. What would cause this?

A. This is likely due to heat stress. There isn’t much we can do to avoid damage from the hot weather. Make sure that the plants are mulched and they are receiving the correct amount of water.

4. This caller has tomato plants with brown leaves at the bottom of the plant. What is causing this?

A. This is likely a fungus. We have seen quite a bit of early blight this year already. Look for concentric rings in the brown spots on the leaves. If it is just a few leaves, pull those leaves off the plant and destroy them. Be sure to keep the plants mulched and water from the base of the plant rather than overhead irrigation to help reduce the spread of the disease.

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Japanese Beetle, Image from Jim Kalisch, Retired from UNL Entomology

5. What can be done about Japanese beetles? This caller said she was going to try traps and wondered about homemade traps.

A. Don’t use traps, they will attract more Japanese beetles than what you have in your landscape already. Spray all of the areas at the same time. She said one day she would spray the garden, the next a shrub, and the next a tree. If you avoid spraying in areas where they are commonly found, those other locations will become a safe haven for the beetles. Sevin is a good insecticide to use to control the beetles. Be sure to read and follow the label for spraying every 10-14 days and for the PHI, to know when it is safe to harvest again after spraying. Using grub control in the lawn can help. You can also go out in the evening when the beetles are grouped up to knock them into a bucket of soapy water to kill them.

6. This caller wants to know if they should hold back on fertilization of roses and garden now due to the heat?

A. If your plants look fine, don’t worry about fertilizing them right now. Avoid fertilizing the vegetable garden this time of the year. If the nitrogen level is too high around vegetable plants, the plants will grow large and beautiful but will not produce fruit because nitrogen is for leafy growth of the plant. I usually advise avoiding fertilization of the garden this late in the season.

7. The last caller of the day has a sweet potato vine with holes in the leaves. She saw a grasshopper the other day, would that be causing the problem?

A. This could be from grasshoppers, especially since you saw some on the plant. Use Sevin to treat for them. Make sure you spray the grassy ditches and roadsides as well, which is where grasshoppers are found more often.

She also has zucchini plants that have gray, translucent spots on the leaves. What would cause that?

A. She sent a picture to clarify the problem. It looked like a slight fungal disease. It is nothing that is too damaging to the plants. Copper fungicide could be used but I don’t think it is necessary. Good sanitation is key to controlling fungal diseases in the garden. Mulch the garden and avoid overhead irrigation during the season to help prevent splashing spores from the ground and from plant to plant. Remove the plants from the garden at the end of the season.

Think Ahead for a Fall Garden

Cold Frame Photo from Iowa State University Extension

It may seem that our gardening season finishes up as soon as it begins. This is the time, however, to start thinking about fall gardens and succession planting to extend your gardening season.

Start transplants indoors now

Fall gardening can be more beneficial than spring gardening. Some of our spring crops will actually grow better and produce better under cooler fall weather than they do in warmer spring temperatures. The weather often warms up quicker in the spring and can cause our spring crops to bolt or die early with little production. The longer, cooler fall season can be the answer to this problem.

The average first frost date for most of Southeast Nebraska is October 6-16, this comes from data from the High Plains Regional Climate Center. You can use the first frost date to figure out when to plant fall crops. Use the first frost date as a starting point, count backward the number of days to harvest listed on the packet of seeds and add a 10 day fall factor because the plants will mature slower due to the cooler weather. Plants or seeds should be planted in late July to early August.

Some of our fall plants could be started indoors now to get a transplant ready for fall planting season. Broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and others can be started indoors now so they are ready to be planted outdoors in late summer. Some of these cool season crops need 65-85 days to maturity and may do better if they are planted as transplants. Start them indoors now to be planted in mid-August to ensure harvest prior to heavy freeze.

Order transplants and garlic now to plant in September

Some local nurseries may not carry the transplants for your fall garden later into the season. A lot of the nurseries will clear out plant inventory by the later part of June and may not have these crops available in August for fall gardening. Check around to look for local inventory and see which nurseries will still carry these crops later in the season for fall planting. If you cannot find them locally, you can order seeds or transplants from mail order catalogs or through the online shopping options.

Flickr image courtesy of Olga Filonenko per CC license.

Garlic is another crop that is planted in the fall, but it isn’t harvested in the fall. Plant garlic in October to be harvested the following June. Garlic needs to be planted in the fall because the new plants need to be exposed to cold soil temperatures for 1-2 months to form the bulb that will be harvested next summer. Even though it is early for planting garlic, you might want to order this early because garlic is difficult to find at planting time.

Plant second round of summer crops

Succession cropping, or double cropping can be done in our gardens as well. This is a gardening technique that allows a gardener to utilize a longer season of growth with multiple or the same crops. An early crop is grown, harvested, cleared off and a new one replaces that first crop. You can also do a staggered planting where you continually plant every week or 2 in the early season or plant an additional crop later in the season for longer harvest. Staggered planting can be helpful to avoid peak insect populations and avoid the majority of the damage on crops. Start your second crop in July if you haven’t already planted again.

Yard and Garden: April 26, 2019

Yard & Garden blog, 2019

This is the Q&A for the Yard and Garden show for April 26, 2019. 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 2, 2019. 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: Roch Gaussoin, Extension Specialist for UNL Agronomy and Turf

1. The first caller of the show recently applied a Weed-B-Gon product that contained crabgrass control. Now he wants to fertilize, but it is a fertilizer and crabgrass control together. Will it be harmful to put the crabgrass control on twice this spring?

A. That should be fine and you won’t see any injury from applying the crabgrass control twice this spring. You won’t need to apply any additional pesticides for the lawn this year. Next year, it would be better to do a little more planning ahead so you don’t apply the chemical twice so close together. This is just additional pesticides in the environment that are not necessary, so be careful with that in the future.

2. A caller is bringing in topsoil on a new build site. He needs to overseed, but is it getting too late to do that yet this spring?

A. Seeding the lawn will have the best results if done in the fall, but spring can get a good start on a new lawn. The weather will be the problem to lawns seeded too late this year. With the weather as it has been this year, there is likely still a 2-3 week window for overseeding the lawn with fairly good success. It might be a good idea to overseed now and then do another overseeding in the fall to thicken it up. Also, for weed control, it would help to use mesotrione (tenacity) at seeding. There is a starter fertilizer that contains the tenacity to help with start-up of the turf and to keep the weeds down while establishment occurs. It would just help to get some type of cover crop or turf down to reduce the amount of bare soil that weeds can grow into.

3. This caller has henbit. Would it be controlled well with the Tenacity? If so, should he use a stronger dose of the Tenacity because he has tried it with limited success?

A. It is Never a good practice to use pesticides at a higher rate than what is listed on the label. A lot of research went into finding the correct rate for best control of a pest. Henbit is hard to control this time of year, it is best controlled in the fall. It will die as soon as the heat of the summer comes on because it is a winter annual and doesn’t live well in hot weather. Treat in the later fall, October, with a 2,4-D product for best control.

That caller also has a peach tree that just flowered for the first time. It has two 2-inch long cracks on the tree trunk, each on opposite sides. What can be done with this?

A. Unfortunately this tree is not going to live long. There is nothing to do to fix the tree once cracks like this happen. This large of an opening is very damaging to the tree and will not allow the tree to live long. If it is out in the open where it won’t damage anything if it falls, leave it until it dies.

4. A caller has been trying to get a native grass prairie started for a few years now with limited success. He has a mix with Blue Grama, buffalograss, and little bluestem. What can he do to get it to grow better?

A. Don’t give up yet. Be sure to control the weeds with herbicides, 2,4-D won’t harm the grasses but will manage the weeds. After some photos, it shows that there is still some grass in there, but it is very early for these warm-season grasses. Keep mowing to keep the seed heads down for the weeds.

5. Can potatoes still be planted yet this spring?

A. Yes, get the potatoes in soon, and they should be fine yet this year.

What do you do for Pampas grass with a dead center?

A. Dig it up and divide it and replant it. This can still be done this spring.

She has a crabapple that has dead branches in it, can those be cut off now or should they be removed in the fruit tree pruning window of February-March?

A. Remove dead branches anytime of the year that they appear.

6. A caller wants to know when to spray for bagworms?

A. It is weather dependent. Starting in late May, check weekly for the small bags to begin to show up on the trees. When the small bags show up and until they are up to 1/2 inch in length you can spray.

He also wondered when and how to fertilize trees?

A. It really isn’t necessary to fertilize trees in Nebraska. They can get the nutrients they need from the soil naturally.

tree irrigationHow do you water trees that were recently planted?

A. water them one time per week with a slow trickle from the hose for about 20 minutes each time they are watered.

When is the best time to prune cedar trees to shape them?

A. Most anytime would be fine with a cedar tree, but the best time is in the late winter to early spring.

7. This caller has Austrian pines that are turning brown on the tips of the branches with short needles. What is causing this and how can it be controlled?

A. This sounds like tip blight. It can be treated now with a copper fungicide. A second application should be made 7-14 days after the first application.

8. What is the best thing to mulch asparagus with?

A. Grass clippings, straw, hay, or wood chip mulch can all be used to mulch asparagus. It would be best to hand pull weeds and then use preen that is labeled for use in asparagus before applying the mulch. If there is a problem with brome grass, use roundup carefully around the asparagus first as well. To carefully get the glyphosate on the brome and not on the asparagus either paint it on with a foam paint brush or use the “glove of death” which is when you wear a chemical-resistant glove and then put a cloth glove over that. Then, dip a few fingers of the gloved hand into Glyphosate and rub those fingers along the stem and leaves of the bindweed to kill it.

9. A caller has been trying to start seedlings of spruce and fir trees for a few years with limited success. He thinks it may be due to root rot because when he pulls them up the roots look rotten. How can he get the trees to grow?

A. After discussion, it seems that he doesn’t overwater the trees and may in fact not be watering them enough. He also said that he can get the trees to grow in another, more neglected, location. It was suggested that he do a soil test to see what is going on with the soil in this desired location. It might be that there is a hard pan underneath these trees that is impeding water movement through the soil causing the roots to rot.

10. This caller has been trying to get grass started and is having difficulties. He has used an aerator, seeder, lawn roller, and then waters the seed well and it is not coming in very good.

A. It seems his practices are good, so he may try a soil sample to see what the nutrient and pH levels are in his soil.

11. The last caller of the day wanted to know what the difference is between a Sycamore and a London Plane tree?

A. These trees are 2 different species of very similar trees.


Understanding the Garden Catalog

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*Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended of those not mentioned and no endorsement by University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension is implied for those mentioned.

In the snowy winter we have seen this year, it is easy to become quite anxious for spring and the garden planting season. The seed catalogs are coming in almost daily still, which can help us plan for our gardens. However, some of the things listed in the catalogs are not always explained. Hopefully, this will help you with your garden planning.

Determinate vs Indeterminate

Tomatoes are one of my favorite vegetables to grow. They are taste so much better straight from my garden, they can be canned and stored in many different ways, and they are fairly easy to care for.

Tomatoes are available as Determinate or Indeterminate growth habit. Determinate tomatoes will grow to a specific size and produce only a certain amount of tomatoes through the season. While indeterminate tomatoes will continue to grow and produce until the frost kills them in the fall. Both types of tomatoes have their place.

Determinate tomatoes are better suited for container gardens or smaller gardens where it is not desirable for them to grow too large. Indeterminate tomatoes are great for gardeners who love to can, freeze, and eat a lot of tomatoes fresh. I prefer to use determinate varieties for the cherry or grape type of tomatoes so the plants don’t get so large and because I only use those for fresh eating. I use indeterminate tomatoes for my large, slicing tomatoes to use for salsa. Choose what works for you, but keep in mind the size and production differences between the two.


Heirloom varieties are also a point of confusion. Heirloom tomatoes are those that have been passed down for many generations. The seed can be saved and replanted from year to year because they are not hybrid plants. Heirloom tomatoes are often chosen because they have better taste than the modern hybrids, but they can have more problems with diseases and insects. Many gardeners choose hybrids now to combat disease issues that always plague tomatoes. Heirloom and hybrid tomatoes are both great choices, it just helps to know what you are purchasing when you buy the seed.

Other Seed Packet Considerations

The seed packet or description in the seed catalog can give you a lot more important information about the plants or seeds you are purchasing. Days to maturity is important so you purchase plants that will produce before the end of the growing season. Many of the tomato varieties are listed for 60 – 80 days to maturity, which means it will be 2-3 months after you plant them until they will begin to produce fruit. One variety, Fourth of July hybrid tomato, ripens after only 49 days. I planted this variety one year and it did start producing shortly after Independence day which I enjoyed so I could start eating my tomatoes that much earlier in the season.

Space plants correctly from the beginning of the season

Also, be sure to pay close attention to the spacing listed on the seed packet or plant labels. It may seem odd to give such a small plant so much space in early May, but you will be happy you did later in the growing season. If plants are too close together, they may face more problems with diseases because they won’t have good airflow. Also, if you space your plants out more, mulching around the plants is much easier and garden access for harvest will be much easier.

Vegetable garden 1
Correctly spaced plants allow for easier harvest and can be mulched between plants

Finally, don’t get too excited that you start your plants too soon. In southeast Nebraska, I suggest waiting until early May before you plant your garden. I like to use Mother’s Day as a good calendar date for planting vegetable gardens. Wait until after our frost free date, which averages April 24th but can be later. If you are planning to start your seeds indoors, you can start those in March. Don’t start too soon or your plants could get too leggy.

Problems in our Gardens

Vegetable garden 1

Growing my own produce in my backyard is one of my favorite things of summer! Vegetable gardens are great exercise, give you an excuse to eat healthier, and are very enjoyable but they can be a lot of work as well. There are always problems in our vegetable gardens, usually they are temporary or easily fixed.

Production Issues

The weather this year has not been favorable to our plants. We have been facing aborting flowers of our plants due to heat and low pollination. Now, even though our plants are producing, the tomatoes are not ripening up. The hot weather contributes to this as well. When temperatures are consistently as hot as they have been lately, tomatoes may develop but they don’t turn red. According to Purdue University, the pigments responsible for the red color in our tomatoes are not produced when the temperatures exceed 85 degrees. So, when we see long stretches of very hot weather, our tomatoes will not ripen. Be patient, they will ripen eventually when the very hot temperatures recede.

Blossom end rot is also starting to show up in our gardens. Blossom end rot is when the blossom end (the end not attached to the plant) begins to rot. This is due to uneven watering, which is seen quite often in the early part of the growing season where we see stretches of drought surrounded by 2-3 inch rains. Again, this should fade through the season as the plants grow through it. You can still eat the other end of the tomato and discard the rotted end or give your plants time, the next harvest should be better.

Cracks may also start to appear in our tomatoes due to the weather. With uneven watering comes cracks in our developing fruits. Our fruits can grow rapidly due to rapid intake of water which can build up pressure in developing tomatoes. Cracks typically appear on the top of the tomato, often in rings, and are not harmful to us if we eat them. Check for insects that may have gotten into the cracks of our fruits before eating.

Grass clippings are applied as mulch around zucchini and cucumbers

Using Mulch

Mulch is a great way to combat these issues. Many of our problems in our gardens stem from uneven watering or plants that got too hot and dry to deal with the stresses of the environment. Mulch can keep moisture around the plants and keep the roots cooler to help with these issues as well as reduce competition from weeds. Grass clippings make a great mulch. If the grass has been treated with any herbicides this season, look at the label to know if or when it can be used as a mulch. Grass clippings break down quickly so they should be reapplied often. Straw is also a great mulch for the garden and it wouldn’t need to be reapplied as often. These types of mulch can then be tilled into your garden at the end of the season or before next season to add nutrients back into your soil.

squash vine borer damagePests

Squash bugs and squash vine borer are seen in our gardens every year. Squash bugs cause yellow speckling on the leaves and feeding damage on the fruits. You may also see rusty colored eggs on the underside of the leaves that can be removed and destroyed. Squash Vine Borer causes rapid death and wilting of the plants. These pests feed on plants in the cucurbit family, which includes zucchini, squash, cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumbers, pumpkins, gourds, etc. Squash vine borer can be controlled by wrapping the stem of your plants with aluminum foil to stop the females from laying their eggs on your plants. Other controls include Carbaryl (Sevin), Permethrin (Eight), or bifenthrin (Bifen). This will need to be reapplied often through the growing season. It is best to switch between at least two of these products to avoid resistance from developing.  Always follow the label recommended rates and follow the pre-harvest interval listed on the label when harvesting fruits and vegetables after using chemicals.  Spray the undersides of the leaves and the base of the plant thoroughly.  All sprays should be done later in the evening to avoid damage to bees and other pollinators.

Starting Seeds Indoors

Starting Seeds Indoors Blog

We are now getting to the time of year where we can begin starting seeds indoors for transplants later this spring. Late February into March is the time of the year when transplants can be started inside our homes, spring will come eventually. Growing transplants from seed takes more work than just buying transplants, but purchasing seed rather than plants is less expensive and you are able to get the varieties you really want rather than just what is available in the nurseries.

It is best to wait until Mother’s Day to plant transplants of warm season crops into the garden. It takes about 8 weeks to grow tomatoes and peppers from seed, so count backward from Mother’s Day to determine when to start the plants indoors. Since Mother’s Day this year is on May 13th, the time to start tomatoes and peppers would be the middle of March. Don’t start your transplants too early or they will get too tall and spindly.

Good transplants begin with good care. Start with good quality seed and a sterile soil or soil-less mixture. For growing media, you can use a potting soil, or a soil-less mixture that contains vermiculite, perlite, and/or peat moss. Just make sure that the growing media is well-drained and has been moistened prior to planting into.

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You can start the seeds in seed trays or other types of containers. You can reuse pots or seed trays from previous years, just make sure all equipment has been cleaned thoroughly prior to reuse. To clean the pots, wash them in soap and then soak them for 10 minutes in a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water. There are a lot of other, less expensive, materials that can be used to start seeds in. Newspapers can be reused to make a planting pot, look for methods of how to fold them online. You can also use paper or plastic cups, small yogurt, sour cream, or cottage cheese containers, soda or water bottles with the top cut off and small milk cartons. Just make sure that you make a few drainage holes in the bottom of these containers. If the container doesn’t have a drainage hole in it, the soil will not drain properly causing problems, including death, for your seedlings.

Transplants need to be grown in favorable environmental conditions. Plants should be grown in temperatures between 70 and 75 degrees. Too cold or too warm can reduce the rate of germination or the plants may grow leggy or improperly. Seedlings need 12-16 hours of light per day. This light should be kept about 1 inch above the plants, as they grow, this light should be moved up with the seedlings.  This light source can be as simple and inexpensive as a utility light or shop light with one cool and one warm fluorescent bulb. Fertilization can be applied weekly with a one-quarter strength, soluble fertilizer. Do not fertilize the seedlings if they were allowed to dry out. Replenish the moisture in the plants prior to applying fertilizer to avoid burning the seedlings.

Two weeks prior to planting outdoors in the garden, you will need to prepare the plants to outdoor conditions, this transition is called hardening off. Move the plants outdoors in the shade on non-windy days. Start out by placing the plants in sun for only an hour or two, gradually increase the length of time they are in the sun and the intensity of that sun. Be sure to still bring the plants indoors at night, especially if a frost is predicted. Also, keep them out of direct wind until they have hardened off.