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Caring For Fall Beds

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Are you overloaded with new ideas for perennial beds and borders after visiting friends or public display gardens? Seen lots of unfamiliar and interesting new plants at the nursery? If so, fall is an excellent time to prepare new beds for planting now or in the spring. The cooler temperatures, weaker sunlight and shorter days of fall mean less energy goes into top growth and more into establishing a strong root system. Planting in this area can usually continue through October.

After choosing the proper plants for your location-taking into account plant hardiness and the amount of available light-the most important thing you can do to insure success is to properly prepare your soil.

After marking off the area, you need to rid it of perennial weeds. Rototilling will only increase your weed crop, so you will need to carefully pull all underground stems and roots. Be sure to also remove any additional roots you find when you turn the soil over.

A quicker way to do the job is to use a broad spectrum herbicide such as Roundup. You may have to repeat the applications on especially tough weeds. Follow label directions and safety precautions.

The soil you’re aiming to create should hold moisture, but also be well drained. If it doesn’t drain well now, it probably has high clay content. The actual soil particles are very small and pack together very closely, suffocating and drowning plant roots. Adding gypsum to clay soil can help break it up.

If your soil drains very quickly and you need to water frequently, it is probably sandy. Soil particles are relatively large and fit together loosely. Plants rarely drown in sandy soil unless the area is low-lying or the water line is high. In this instance it would be best to make a raised bed.

The solution, both for maintaining good drainage, and moisture retention, is generous amounts of organic matter. It separates clay particles, creating air space, and holds water and nutrients in sand. Good sources of organic matter are finished compost, well-decomposed manure, leaf mold and damp peat moss. These should be incorporated into the soil when it is turned over to a depth of 12″ or more. At this time you can also remove any sizable rocks, roots or other debris.

Most perennials grow best in a soil that is slightly acid to almost neutral-a pH of about 5.5-6.5. Most soils in this area are probably very acid and will need to have lime added every 2-3 years.

If you prefer to estimate your fertilizer needs, there are a few things to keep in mind. Phosphorous, and some of the trace elements, even when present in the soil in sufficient quantities, are only available to plants within a fairly narrow pH range. Keeping your soil pH at 5.5-6.5 should be adequate for most plants.

Fertilizers can either be natural ñ we carry Espoma products such as bone meal, dried blood, cottonseed meal, greensand or a ready-mixed blend. Or you can use dry or granular fertilizers that are either quick or slow release (i.e. Osmocote). You can use either type if you are going to plant now. If you are going to delay planting until spring, wait and add the fertilizer then unless you are using natural fertilizers which break down slowly and will not leach out readily. For this reason, I prefer them for any sandy soil. If your soil is sandy and you wish to use chemical fertilizers you should use smaller doses and repeat at intervals.

Natural fertilizers should be incorporated into the soil when you turn it over, especially phosphorous (bone meal, rock phosphate), as it doesn’t move readily through the soil. Dry or granular fertilizers can be sprinkled on the surface and raked into the top few inches of soil.

Properly preparing a bed can take a lot of time and effort, but in the end, it repays you many times over.

Happy Planting!

How To Prune Tomato Plants

When growing tomatoes, the ultimate goal is to help the plant yield as much ripe fruit as possible. If you’re growing indeterminate or “vining” varieties (Big Boy, Beef Master, most heirlooms), pruning your plants to remove unwanted shoots and leaves ensures that all the nutrients are going to the tomatoes. If you’re growing a determinate variety (Biltmore, Heinz, Patio), too much pruning is counterproductive. See Step 1 to learn when and how to prune a tomato plant.

Step 1

Determine which variety you’re growing. Before you make any cuts, figure out whether you’re growing an indeterminate or determinate variety of tomato plant. Indeterminate varieties grow like vines, and they must be trained upright on poles and pruned in order to grow correctly. Determinate varieties contain themselves before they grow into a bush, and they naturally direct their energy toward fruiting without needing as much intervention. Here are the common varieties of each:

  • Indeterminate: Big Boy, Beef Master, Black Prince, German Queen, most cherry tomato varieties and most heirloom varieties.
  • Determinate:Ace 55, Amelia, Better Bush, Biltmore, Heatmaster, Heinz Classic, Mountain Pride and Patio.

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Step 2
Locate the suckers for removal.
Look for the tiny new branches sprouting in the spot where a branch meets the stem on an indeterminate plant. These are called “suckers” and they’re what you want to remove. Suckers left to grow will take energy from the rest of the plant and cause the plant to bear fewer fruits. This isn’t always a bad thing, but strategically removing suckers will help your plant bear large fruit all season long.

  • Wait for the stems and leaves below the first set of flowers to turn yellow before doing anything.

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Step 3
Remove all suckers and their leaves below the first flower cluster.
Do this no matter what kind of tomato plant you have. This keeps the plant strong by helping it grow a sturdy central stem. [1] This should ensure that the majority of the nutrients are sent to the fruits, instead of being wasted on the unwanted growing tips.

  • To remove a sucker, grab a growing tip by the base between the thumb and forefinger and bend it back and forth until it snaps cleanly. This should ideally be done when the shoot is young and supple. The small wound will heal quickly. This is called “simple pruning”.
  • As for stems and leaves, not the suckers, growing below the first flower cluster: If you live in a warmer zone such as Zone 9, you should leave them on until they turn yellow. They are important for helping to shade the ground until the plant matures. On the other hand, if your plant is in a humid environment (such as a greenhouse), remove everything below the first flower cluster to improve ventilation. Humidity can make it easier for sicknesses to flourish, and it also causes the wounds that are created while pruning to dry up more slowly making the plant longer vulnerable. By improving ventilation, you’re helping to protect the plant.

 

Step 4
Leave the thicker shoots.
Thicker suckers should not be snapped off, since this could damage the whole plant. If it’s thicker than a pencil, use the “Missouri pruning” method and pinch out just the tip of the sucker, leaving one or two leaves behind for photosynthesis and to protect developing fruit from sun scald. The drawback is that suckers will develop from the stem that you leave behind, which will require additional pruning. This technique is better when you’re dealing with large suckers; if the wound becomes diseased, it will be further away from the main stem. This method also leaves a few inches on the sucker to reduce the shock to the plant.

  • Prune suckers all summer long to keep the plant healthy. They grow quickly, so you may need to prune once or twice a week

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Step 5
For indeterminate varieties, pinch off all but four or five fruit bearing trusses.
These are the branches that grow from the main stem above the first flower cluster. Four or five will produce large, healthy fruit, but any more than that and the fruit will be small and scant. Choose four or five sturdy trusses to keep, then pinch out any additional side shoots, leaving the plant’s top shoot intact, known as the terminal shoot.

  • Make sure the vine-like plants are tied to supports after flowering occurs. Otherwise, the vine will grow along the ground and won’t produce healthy tomatoes.[3]
  • Determinate plants already have a predetermined number of stems that will naturally grow, so there’s no need to do any pruning above the flower cluster. If you prune above the flower cluster, you’ll be removing fruit-bearing branches without helping the plant.[4]

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Step 6
Remove yellow leaves.
Yellow leaves are leaves that use up more sugar than they produce. As the plant begins to mature, the lower leaves will naturally begin to yellow and wilt. This is perfectly normal, so pull these from the plant when they appear. It will keep the plant fresh and help ward off disease.

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Step 7
Top the plant.
To get the best out of the last growth of the season, it is necessary to “top” the plant. About a month before the first expected frost, or when the plant hits the roof of your greenhouse, remove the plant’s terminal shoot. At this point in the season, the tomatoes currently growing will have a limited time to reach maturity, so all nutrients must be directed straight to the fruit.

This article was sourced from wikihow – http://www.wikihow.com/Prune-Tomatoes

 

Plant a Butterfly Garden

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It’s that time of year when butterflies gracefully spread their wings and float through the warm summer air. There is something magical about these winged beauties, and creating a garden to attract them is relatively easy.

One of the main requirements is a sunny location—an area that receives four to six hours of direct sun every day. Butterflies also need a source of shallow water; a mud puddle or a saucer with wet sand or mud will do the trick. If you can provide some shelter from strong winds and a few stones where they can sun themselves, that’s even better. Also, if you want to provide a haven for butterflies, don’t use pesticides. It’s true that these pollinators are attracted to particular plants, and that the larvae of different species prefer different types of food, but you don’t have to be an expert to enjoy butterflies in your garden. Instead, you can attract them by simply planting a variety of plants, including annuals, perennials, trees, and shrubs. Continue reading Plant a Butterfly Garden

Growing and Caring for Rhododendrons and Azaleas

Azaleas can be either evergreen or deciduous. Deciduous Azaleas are known as Mollis or Exbury Azaleas. They bloom in the early spring with vivid orange and yellow colors. They can be grown from seed if the seeds are collected in the fall and sown on top of moist peat at about 70 degrees F.

Evergreen Azaleas are known as broad leaf evergreens because they are do not have needles. They bloom later in the spring, and are usually propagated in the fall over bottom heat, discussed in detail at Rhododendrons are also broad leaf evergreens and are also propagated over bottom heat in early winter.

The best time to prune Rhododendrons and Azaleas is in the spring right after they bloom. These plants start setting next years flower buds over the summer, so late pruning will cost you some blooms next year, so get them pruned as soon as they finish blooming. It’s also a good idea to pick off the spent blooms so the plants don’t expel a lot of energy making seeds, unless of course you’d like to grow them from seed. But keep in mind that they don’t come true from seed.

Seeds from a red Rhododendron are likely to flower pale lavender. Cuttings insure a duplicate of the parent plant. How do you prune Rhododendrons and what does pinching a Rhododendron mean? These are frequently asked questions.

Pinching is a low impact form of pruning that is very effective for creating nice, tight full plants when you are growing small plants from seeds or cuttings. Typically a Rhododendron forms a single new bud at the tip of each branch. This new bud will develop into another new branch, another bud will form and the process will continue. If left alone this will produce a very lanky plant with a lot of space between the branches forming a very unattractive plant.

So if you are starting with a plant that is nothing more than a rooted cutting all you have to do is pinch off this new growth bud as soon as it is about 3/8” long. Just grab it between your fingers and snap it completely off. When you do this the plant usually responds by replacing that single bud with two, three, or even four new buds in a cluster around the bud that you pinched off. Each one of these buds will develop into branches and eventually a single bud will appear at the tip of each of these branches, and of course you should come along and pinch each one of those off forcing the plant to produce multiple buds at the end of each of these branches.

The more often you pinch off these single buds, the more branches the plant will form, making a nice, tight, full plant. This is especially helpful with young plants such as rooted cuttings or young seedlings.

But what about larger plants, how do I prune them? I prune mine with hedge shears!!! I just have at it and trim them like I would a Taxus or a Juniper, and guess what? The result is a very tight compact plant loaded with beautiful flowers. My Rhododendrons are so tightly branched that you can not see through them, and that is the result of vigorous pruning with hedge shears. Sure you can use hand shears, and you’ll have a nicer plant because of it, but I just use the hedge shears because that’s the tool that I happen to have in my hand as I am going by.

Keeping Rhododendrons and Azaleas healthy and happy is a simple as understanding what they like. First of all they like to grow in a climate that suites their tastes. Many varieties of both don’t like it in the north, and to prove the point they will up and die as soon as extreme cold weather hits. Buy plants that are known to be hardy in your area.

Here in zone 5 (northern Ohio) the following Azaleas seem to do well. Hino Crimson (red), Stewartstonia (red), Herbert (lavender), Cascade (white), Delaware Valley (white), and Rosebud (pink). Hardy Rhododendrons include Roseum Elegans (pinkish lavender), English Roseum (pinkish lavender), Nova Zembla (red), Lee’s Dark Purple, Chinoides (white), and Cunningham’s (white).

How should you fertilize Rhododendrons and Azaleas? These broad leaf evergreens are laid back and like to take it slow and easy. Do not fertilize them with quick release nitrogen fertilizers, it could kill them. Instead give them an organic snack, like Millorganite or well rotted cow manure or compost. Millorganite is an organic fertilizer made of granulated sewage sludge.

No it doesn’t smell any worse than other fertilizers, and plants like it because it is plant and soil friendly. It won’t burn the plants, and it actually reactivates the micro-organisms in the soil. That’s a good thing. Most full service garden centers carry Milorganite.

A long time ago somebody let the word out that Rhododendrons are acid loving plants, and people are always asking me if I think their struggling Rhododendron needs more acid. The answer is no. Your struggling Rhododendron probably needs a great big gulp of oxygen around it’s root system.

Rhododendrons do not like wet feet. They don’t even like high humidity let alone wet soil around their roots. They like to be high and dry, and like an unobstructed flow of oxygen to their roots. You can accomplish this by planting them in a bed raised at least 10” with good rich topsoil. They will be smiling from branch to branch.

A few years back my friend Larry and I had several hundred small Rhododendrons that we were going to grow on to larger plants. We planted most of them in Larry’s backyard which is fairly good soil, but a little sticky. We didn’t have room for all of them so we planted the last 105 down the road from my house in a field we were renting. (Never heard of anybody renting a field? You should get out more.)

This location had absolutely no water for irrigating and the soil was very dry and rocky. Other plants at that location often struggled during the dog days of summer due to the lack of water, but those Rhododendrons were as happy as pigs in mud. They out grew the ones at Larry’s house by twice the rate and we sold them years earlier than the others.

My point? Rhododendrons don’t like wet feet. They do well in the shade, but contrary to popular belief they do even better in full sunlight.

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