Category Archives: Winter Care

Tips, tricks, and suggestions to keep your landscapes healthy and usable throughout the winter months.

Don’t Think Your All Alone!

Not going to be a long post today, just a quick note to help some of my friends out there feel better about their gardening skills.  I just wanted to set some minds at ease.  To those of you who have old yews, rhodies, or other evergreens that don’t appear to have survived the winter, YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY ONES!  I talked in the fall about the importance of watering in the winter months when possible and here is the proof of it’s necessity.  Many, many of you have serious damage to old, established evergreens which you have never given any special care before during the winter.  My point is you’ve been lucky till now, LOL!

ImageNow don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I told you so, (but I did tell you so).  I’m just saying that many of you have recently become Mother Nature’s latest victims.  Your evergreens have been assaulted with winter burn due to lack of moisture during the long dry months and crazy temps.  And sadly, there is a very high probability that all your precious plants have “shuffled off their barky coil”.  Many rhodies out there look just like the sad little guy in the picture.  And even his distinguished big brothers and sisters look quite similar.  Many coniferous shrubs do appear to still have a spark of life in them, but will they ever fully recover is very difficult to predict.

 

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As you can see from this photo, their does still appear to be a glimmer of hope here, albeit very slight.  In this case, the best recommendation I have is that you immediately begin DEEP watering and get some good evergreen fertilizer or one with a high nitrogen content (the first of the 3 numbers listed on the package) according to the fertilizer instruction.

I would throw out there, that I don’t suggest trimming plants or worse than that, replacing them, until your certain they are not going to recover.  I know it can be tough to except since they tend to be unattractive while injured, but give them the summer to recover and if you still don’t see and results, then replace them either that fall or spring of the next season.  That being said if a coniferous evergreen completely drops its needles, it is NOT likely to recover.

Now, another family of plants that seems to have taken a massive hit this winter is roses.  However, I would certainly like to reassure you; just because all the old canes on your rose are grey and break easily, the plant is certainly NOT deceased.  Many roses will die back to the ground during difficult winters.  Then they will produce new shoots far down on old canes or even directly up from the ground off of old healthy root systems.  After you begin to see the new shoots feel free to trim back the old canes.  Again though, your going to want to feed with a good fertilizer (either a balanced mix or one specifically designed for your particular species of rose.) And of course, get the poor little guy some water!

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got today.  Like I said, I just wanted you to know that your not alone.  And as always, GOOD LUCK AND KEEP GROWING!!!

Anyone Else Getting Anxious For Some Green?!?!

It’s the beginning of February and we’ve reached what may be the coldest temps of the season so far (at least here in the Midwest).  I saw a funny post on Facebook yesterday (one of those goofy e-cards everyone seems to have on their pages now) stating, “I’m tired of winter.  I want to fast-forward so I can bitch about how hot it is!”  Guess you had to be there, but I thought it was funny….AEcardnyway, if you are getting the green urges there are certainly some things you can do to quench your thirst, if only a little.

The first, and lowest commitment, task you could do would be to begin setting goals and planning your summer garden activities.  Do you plan on changing up your landscape at all?  What is working in your landscaping and what isn’t?  Did you find a new plant last summer that you just couldn’t fit into your beds?  Now is the time to look back at your plantings and decide if you want to change anything up.  Perhaps you’ve got some Little Henry Sweetspire in a foundation bed that don’t seem to be growing as well as those further out in the yard.  Start thinking about where there might be some  space further out that you could move the smaller guys but still have a nice flow in your beds.  It’s not uncommon at all the the same plant will grow differently in two different areas of your yard.  We call this “putting the right plant in the right place”.  Even in the same yard different micro-climates can occur and if a plant is borderline hardy it may do well in one location of your yard but not in another.  Perhaps the Sweetspire are just not getting the same moisture under the eve of your roof as the ones out further in the yard or perhaps it’s more shade than they would prefer.  Any number of things can affect the growth of a plant and it takes some work and even some trial and error to learn what will work well in your space.  Now that you’ve decided to move that Sweetspire, you can start doing your homework to decide if that Hydrangea you found last summer is a good fit for the vacated space.

The first thin I would caution is completely trusting the tag on a particular plant.  While these tags are a perfect jumping off point, they seldom have all the information a person truly needs to adhere to that “right plant, right place” concept.  Worse than that, if your buying your plants from a “Box-shop” (a big name chain that isn’t strictly a plant centered business) I have seen many instances where the tags are just plain wrong.

Not all tags are created equally.

Not all tags are created equally.

These places hire folks who typically have no horticulture background or knowledge and sometimes tags get accidentally switched or lost and these people sadly don’t have sufficient education to know the difference.  Don’t get me wrong, I am NOT saying you shouldn’t buy your plants from a box-shop (but you shouldn’t buy your plants from a box-shop, lol); however, I do highly recommend that your do your homework prior to purchasing.   With the internet practically in everyone’s pocket these days, there is no excuse for being uninformed.  Again, though, I would caution against trusting the internet mail order sites.  Many of those sites know just as little as the box-shops do sadly.  I would steer you towards websites that are managed by universities or botanical centers.  Generally, these are updated on a more regular basis and the information is based on research and experience.  Honestly, my go-to website if I’m not sure about a particular plant is the Missouri Botanical Garden Website Plant Finder Resource.  This source is great for me because it is close to home with a similar climate and it’s an extensive database.  Others such as the USDA plant database, or Ohio State University and UConn are excellent resources as well.  All I’m saying is do a little research before you buy that plant and stick it in the border of your landscape just because the tag said it was full sun and it only gets 18 inches tall.  That may be the case in Tennessee, but in your zone it is actually part shade and as a result gets closer to 30 inches tall (just an example, but you never know).

The point of the story is DON’T BE AFRAID TO CHANGE IT UP!  As a general rule, your garden space is a living, breathing thing that will (and SHOULD) change over time.  Plants will die, things will grow differently than we expected, and our tastes will change.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not an advocate of throwing away perfectly healthy plants.  But you don’t have to kill plants for these changes to occur.  I can assure you, even if you don’t like a particular plant or can’t find the perfect place for it in your garden, you know someone who would or knows someone else who would gladly give that plant a new home!

So there you have it, thseed packse first tip for curing your wintertime blues!  Next time will discuss another surefire way to clear out the winter cobwebs.  A much more hands on task than playing on the internet!  Next blog we will talk about planning for your kitchen garden!  I will share seed starting tips and time-frames as well as ideas for a well rounded kitchen garden.  I’ll also provide insight into some of the tools you can use to increase success and ideas for saving cash while still utilizing those tools.

GOOD LUCK AND KEEP GROWING!!!!

Let’s Address a Christmas Myth

During the Christmas season, many of us will likely purchase a Euphorbia pulcherrima, more commonly called a Poinsettia.  They are a staple in many folks holiday tradition.   Along with that tradition goes the belief that Poinsettia’s are toxic and harmful if consumed.  Now, while  a handful of my mentor’s and professor’s had the strange predilection to taste plants they come across, this is not something I see as common practice.  So, I’m not entirely sure how it came about that people found the plants to be toxic, I can only tell you that (as many of you believe) it is a VERY COMMON belief.  But the real question, IS IT TRUE?

Let’s start with some history shall we?  The Euphorbia pulcherrima plant is native to Mexico and Central America.  It was initially brought to America by Joel Roberts Poinsett, who at the time was the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.  Poinsett although an excellent statesman, was also an avid plantsman.  He would regularly wander the countryside in search of new varieties of plants and during one such jaunt in 1828 he found this amazing little red flower growing along the roadside.  He obtained some cuttings of his little discovery and brought them back to his greenhouse in South Carolina where he began to propagate them.  The common name for the new Euphorbia was given by a noted historian and horticulturalist of the era by the name of William Hickling Prescott.  (On a side note, W.H. Prescott was the son of the well-known American Revolutionary War Colonel William Prescott who reportedly coined the phrase, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!”  Though there is some dispute if he was truly the first to say it.)  Prescott had just published a historical piece called “The Conquest of Mexico”   During the time that Poinsett was Ambassador to Mexico the country was involved in a brutal civil war which is the subject of Prescott’s book.  Prescott chronicled Poinsett’s time in Mexico in the book, so as a result he was asked to name the plant.  Thus the Poinsettia was born.

Now, let’s talk about thbrachte plant itself.  Would you believe, those amazing (typically) red flowers that engulf the top of this unique plant aren’t actually parts of the flower at all.  The flower itself is only the small center portion of those red parts so commonly attributed to the flower.  The red leaves are in fact just that, LEAVES.  Technically, they are called BRACHT’s.  Bracht’s are specialized leaf structures; in the poinsettia’s case, designed to attract pollinator’s to the flower due to it’s small and inconspicuous stature.  Ultimately, in my opinion, they are what give the plant it’s appeal.  The Bracht’s grow in many different colors, ranging for the typical red, to oranges, pinks, and even whites.  Now growers are even developing multi-colored, or “splotchy” bracht colors.  Let’s be honest, we’re all always on the look out for the next big thing.

As far as caring for your poinsettia, it’s actually more simple than you think.   Water when the surface soil is dry.  Water it thoroughly and discard any excess from your tray.   Place the plant away from hot or cold drafts.  Keep temperatures around  72 degrees during the day and 60 degrees at night.  As with most of your other house plants this time of year, high humidity is preferable.  Follow these few simple tips and you’ll enjoy your poinettia plants well into January.  If your really adventurous (or just cheap) I can teach you how to maintain your poinsettia’s year round, but that is a post for another day!

Well, let’s go to the point, I guess.  Are these amazing little holiday treasures toxic or not?  According to the Mayo Clinic and research by Ohio State University, the answer is a resounding NO!!!  Although there is no solid way of knowing where the myth came from that these colorful plants were toxic, it is pretty clear that is it 100% false.  The plants have no chemicals in them that are even believed to be toxic to pets, let alone people.  The white milky sap has been known to cause an itchy rash upon contact to some people’s skin but this is in no way fatal, and easily poinsettiatreated (we’re not talking poison ivy type itch here, folks).  Now, that being said, this plant IS NOT EDIBLE either.  That may sound slightly like a contradiction in terms, but let me explain.  While consuming this plant will certainly not kill you OR your dog, it will certainly wreak havoc on your digestive system.  This would likely cause some unpleasant bathroom experiences for you, or possibly living room experiences, if your dog or cat is the one that ate it.   According to PoisIndex (the primary resource for many poison control hotlines across the country) a child who weighed 50pounds would have to eat over 500 poinsettia leaves to reach an even potentially fatal dose of compounds from the poinsettia plant.  So while I don’ t recommend eating it, it’s not time to get your affairs in order if you do.

So now you know,  and as the old saying tells us, “The more you know, the further you go!”  Enjoy your Christmas season, and relax knowing that your home is safe once again!

AND AS ALWAYS, GOOD LUCK AND KEEP GROWING!!!!!!

To wrap or not to wrap?

Okay, so I discussed caring for your evergreens recently, and I’m sure some of you thought I was just neglecting the deciduous tree’s.  Not true at all, I just wanted to bring up the evergreens’ first because they could potentially perish from winter damage while deciduous tree’s typically do not.  That is not to say that they can not receive winter damage though, so just what are we up against?

Well, first of all let me reiterate that almost all tree’s need to be well watered prior to the ground freezing.  This is especially true for young or newly planted deciduous (LEAFY) tree’s just as evergreens.  The reason being they just don’t have the root structure to search for water when they begin to break dormancy.  Beyond that there are a few other things to consider with regard to your deciduous trees’.  Thin barked and young tree’s are highly susceptible to two major winter damage issues.  While these are not the only things that can affect tree’s during the winter months they are the most common problems.  The first one we will discuss is a problem called WINTER SUN SCALD.

Winter Sun Scald is bark damaging issues.  It is most commonly seen on tree’s such as Maple, Apple, Honeylocust, Ash, and Willow however any young tree with undeveloped, thin bark is susceptible.  What I mean by thin bark is a tree that has yet to achieve that CORKY appearance we commonly attribute to tree bark.  Sun Scald is seen on the south and/or west sides of tree trunks and caused by the temperature variances from day to night hours.  Basically, as the day progresses and the temperatures rise, the previously dormant phloem cells (these are cells in a tree’s vascular system that carry nutrients down to the roots) warm and this triggers a “WAKE UP” reaction.  Those cells mistake the temps as an alarm clock to break dormancy.  Unfortunately they failed to get the memo that Mother Nature has a sense of humor.  So as the night temps drop down again, those cells are caught “with their bark down” and basically freeze to death.  This creates an unsightly wound on the trunk of the tree where the cells essentially stop developing.  While this will typically not kill the tree it does create a myriad of possible problems the worst of which is that it creates a point of entry for disease or damaging pests.  So while a borer insect may ultimately be attributed with the death of a tree, it probably found it’s way in through the sun scald damage.

Image of Sun Scald courtesy of Missouri Botanical Gardens

The second common winter issue for deciduous trees is known as FROST CRACKING.  Unlike Sun Scald which will be permanently visible, frost cracks typically close back upper during summer months.  Frost cracks also generally appear on the south or west side of a trunk.  However, this damage can even affect older corky barked tree’s.  Frost Cracks are also caused by warming cells although, in this case the cells don’t generally die.  Basically, as the daytime temps warm them, the cells begin to expand.  Then when dusk rolls around and temps go back down the cells cool again.  As they cool, they contract.  The outer cells cool faster than the inner cells and as a result, as the outer cells contract faster, they are pulled apart and cause vertical cracks along the bark.  Cracks can easily be several feet long and often will sound like a gunshot when the crack first occurs.  Generally, the cracks will close back up during the summer, although once a crack occurs it will typically reappear during winter months from then on.  Frost Cracks are most common on Maple and Sycamore although any thin barked tree would be susceptible.

Frost Crack Image courtesy NC State University Webpage

There is no perfect way to prevent frost cracks on large tree’s but fortunately there is something you can do to help prevent it and Sun Scald on younger tree’s.  While many orchard growers actually whitewash their tree’s during the winter months to help protect them, this is not commonly used in residential settings as it dramatically changes the appearance of the landscape.  The most common practice in a typical landscape is to use a crepe paper like material known as tree wrap.  Basically to apply the wrap, you begin at the bottom and work your way up, overlapping as you go to completely wrap the trunk all the way up to the first branch knuckle.  I don’t recommend using the plastic trunk protectors as they will leave a gap where you install them and that reduces their efficacy in my opinion.  Now, remember this important point; you need to remove the tree wrap as soon as the weather begins to warm.  Leaving this wrap on the tree will hold moisture against the trunk during the wet spring months and also creates a nice warm home for insects and pests during summer months.  So what was originally intended to help could cause even more damage if not maintained.

I’ve got one more recommendation for you, although this one doesn’t really have anything to do with bark damage.  It really is a good idea to remove at least a couple feet of sod from the base of your tree’s and install mulch instead.   The reason for this is the mulch acts as a blanket in the winter to help keep roots warm, but then will help retain moisture during spring and summer.  It will also help keep weeds down and will prevent the need to try to mow or weed whip around the base of the tree and potentially damage the trunk or exposed surface roots.  However, only mulch to within an inch or two of the trunk so that (like the wrap) the mulch doesn’t hold moisture against the trunk of the tree and create rot.  I like to create a little moat around the trunk of the tree.  Then if I am hand watering I can set the end of the hose in the moat and set it to a slow flow and the moat helps to keep the water from running off.

I hope this gives you an idea on how to maintain your young tree’s so that you get years of enjoyment from them.  Properly placed large shade trees can help decrease utility costs as well as increase the value of your property.  They provide homes for wildlife and shade on a sunny afternoon.  Trust me when I say, they are worth taking a few minutes to protect.

GOOD LUCK AND KEEP GROWING!!!

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Caring for your Evergreens during the winter months.

Even these young Columnar White Pines will need some "lovin" during the winter months.

Even these young Columnar White Pines will need some “lovin” during the winter months.

Well, according to Weather.com our days of 60 degree temps are coming to a close here in the Omaha area.  It appears the average daily high for the month of November will be just under 48 degrees (F).  This means its high time you prepare your evergreens for winter. You should make sure to give all your evergreens a good deep watering prior to the ground freezing.  As a general rule plants need about 10 gallons of water for every inch of caliper (so a 2 inch caliper tree would need about 20 gallons of water) Caliper is the width of the tree trunk about 12″ from the ground (unless it’s a large, established tree, then it is done at chest height).  If your hand watering with just a hose a good rule of thumb is about 5 minutes at medium pressure equals about 10 gallons of water.  Thus if we water our 2″ tree for 20 minutes at medium pressure it should be getting a good drink. Plants “sweat” just like humans do.  This primarily occurs through the leaf structure.  With evergreens this would be the needles, which they don’t lose like your other plants.  This opens the door to a problem known as Winter Burn.  They are “sweating” but the ground is frozen so they aren’t able to take up water through the roots.  Don’t think that just because there is snow on the ground that the plant is getting water.  If the ground is frozen so is the moisture.  To counter this we us a chemical called an ANTI DESICCANT.  The best way to describe this is that it acts as a wax to coat the evergreens needles or leaves to help slow the “sweating” during periods when little or no water is available (although it is not actually a wax).   The best time to apply anti desiccant is when the temps are starting to stay below 50 degrees during mid-day.  However you want to make sure there is no threat of rain or frost within 24 hours (the chemical may not fully adhere).  The other thing to keep in mind is that warm temps can “melt” the chemical off as well, so you may need to re-apply later in the season to maintain protection.  It’s not difficult, you simply spray onto the plant to the point of runoff.  This should help keep your plant from losing water when none is available to replenish it. Keep in mind that even if it is “winter” if we don’t have temps below freezing and still aren’t getting any moisture, you’re going to NEED TO GIVE YOUR PLANTS A DRINK!  Don’t just forget about them because your sprinkler system is off and you don’t feel like dragging a hose.  This could be a costly decision.  Also, DON’T FORGET YOUR BROADLEAF EVERGREENS!  Not all evergreens have needles (and not all needle tree’s are evergreens for that matter).  Plants like Boxwood, Yew, Rhododendron and Holly are especially susceptible to winter burn and should be treated as well. An added bonus of your anti desiccant is that you can even use it on your Holiday Cut Greens such as live wreaths or table center pieces to help them last longer as well.  Even your “live” Christmas tree would benefit greatly from a good coating.  Although I would hope that the folks you purchase the tree from took care of this for you.  Might be a good thing to ask when deciding who to purchase your tree from. GOOD LUCK AND KEEP GROWING!!