Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fallacies Keep Some Gardeners In A Rut

From The Fresno Bee, June 24, 2010, by Elinor Teague:

The Fresno County Master Gardeners, like all Master Gardeners in the state, are trained by University of California Cooperative Extension to educate other home gardeners in the most effective uses of the least toxic or harmful gardening methods.

We are all converts who have witnessed first-hand that these methods really work. But persuading other home gardeners to try using fewer chemicals and fertilizers is not always an easy job.

There are two very common misconceptions that often keep home gardeners from trying new (actually, very old) approaches to keeping their plants healthy and relatively pest free.

You must use chemical pesticides to kill insects. Not true. There are many very effective means of non-chemical insect control. The first and foremost is to correct any cultural problems in your garden.

Take note of which plants have insects and which don't, and then investigate the differing conditions for those plants. You'll see that the one rose bush that gets less water than the others has aphids while the other roses don't. Or that the pile of garden debris near the raggedy hydrangeas is full of earwigs. Maybe the roots of the redwood tree are stealing all the water and nutrients from the coral bells you planted underneath it.

If you fix the cultural problems, you may well fix the insect problems.

Many gardeners don't realize that aphids are killed when washed off plants with a blast of water from the hose. And, it's hard to believe, but true, that hand-picking will reduce snail populations. Washing the dust off plants will prevent red spider mite infestations.

Experiment with some of these nontoxic methods.

Unless your plants are seriously infested or damaged by pest insects, you'll probably be surprised by success, and you will have preserved the populations of beneficial insects that are crucial to keeping pest insect populations under control.

The more fertilizer you use, the better the results. Also, not true. You may have noticed that some fertilizer manufactures have greatly increased the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in their products.

The percentage of nitrogen in one well-known product has jumped from 15% to 26%. This is in response to customers' expectations of fast results from fertilizers. We can't wait to see (and brag about) 10-foot high, lush tomato plants.

There is nothing wrong with fertilizing to encourage slow and steady growth and production.

Slow and steady growth is best accomplished by regular, consistent feedings with a lower-number fertilizer. A half cup of a 5-10-5 rose and flower food, fed monthly from spring until fall, is enough to keep roses and other flowering plants blooming throughout the season.

Just a tablespoon of the same fertilizer, fed monthly, will produce excellent results on tomatoes, peppers and other summer vegetables.

Using less fertilizer with lower percentages of nitrogen also reduces the amount of chemical run-off into our water systems.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Garden Checklist

From The Fresno Bee, June 24, 2010:

Gather everything red, white and blue in the garden to decorate for Independence Day.

Tasks--Avoid over-watering lawns to help prevent warm-weather diseases.
Pruning--Cut spent canes to the ground after harvesting berries. Attach new canes to the trellis for next year's crop.
Fertilizing--Apply fertilizer regularly for bloom and fruit production.
Planting--In foothill areas, continue planting warm-weather season flowers and vegetables. Autumn crocus; from seed: basil, beans, cabbage.
Things to Ponder--Adjust lawn mower setting to cut lawn higher. Set mower to 2 1/2 to 3 inches for tall fescue, 3/4 to 1 inch for common bermuda, and 1/2 to 3/4 inches for hybrid bermuda.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Grow Enduring Sago Palms From Seedlings

From The Fresno Bee, June 17, 2010, by Elinor Teague:

Sego palms are unusual plants.

First of all, they're not palms or ferns; they're cycads, primitive relatives of conifers and ginkgo trees.

Secondly, sego palms can be either male or female. The bare area inside the rosette of leaves which encircles the top of the palm will be pointed if the palm is male and more rounded if the palm is female.

Female sego palms will produce many seedlings (called pups) at their base or along the sides of the trunk.

Sego palms can endure a really wide range of temperatures, from 15 degrees [Fahrenheit], well below freezing, to 110 degrees, which makes them eminently suitable for our climate here in the Central Valley.

Leaf production on sago palms is also unusual.

The leaves grow in a circle (a rosette) and new rosette of leaves will sprout on sago palms all at once, usually in early spring.

It takes at least a week for the tender new leaves to "harden off," when the plant should not be disturbed or moved to avoid damage.

Too much bright sunlight at the time when the new leaves are appearing will cause those leaves to be stunted and yellow.

Protection from our afternoon sun during the early spring will ensure that the new leaves are large and dark green.

Yellow leaves is a common problem on sagos. They can be caused by too much bight sun or by over watering or by a nutrient deficiency.

Water a sago as you would a cactus, watering only when the soil is nearly dry.

There are palm fertilizers available (good for puny queen palms), but the old-fashioned remedy of adding a few tablespoons of Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) to the soil around a yellowing sago is still recommended.

Some gardeners try to boost the slow growth habit of sago palms by cutting off all the leaves in winter. This is not a good practice; in fact, it can kill the plant or stunt the growth severely. Only dead, brown leaves should be pruned off sagos.

Starting sago palms from pups is easy. In early spring, gently pop off or carefully cut off larger-sized pups from the mother palm. Snip off any roots and allow the pups to dry out or harden off in a sheltered spot for a week.

The pups can then be planted into a pot that should be small in relation to the size of the pup. A 4-inch pup will just fit into a 4-inch pot. Use a lightweight, sandy soil mix (a cactus potting soil mix is ideal) and place the pup so that it is only buried halfway.

Put the pot in a spot where it will receive good morning sun, water it when the soil is just dry and then transplant it into the garden, into well-drained soil, a week or so after the first rosette of leaves has appeared and has hardened off.

Sago palms don't like to be moved, similar to ficus trees their leaves will turn yellow and drop until they adjust to the new position, so pick your spot in the garden carefully.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Garden Checklist

From The Fresno Bee, June 17, 2010:

Enjoy the balmy June evenings with a poolside barbecue, an ice-cream social or outdoor dining.

Tasks--Early-morning irrigation is best for bedding plants and lawns to prevent foliar disease.
Pruning--Cut away the blight in apples and ornamental pears.
Fertilizing--Fertilize almond, apple, peach, nectarine and plum.
Planting--fortnight lily (Dietes), geranium (Pelargonium), sage (Salvia), pincushion flower (Scabiosa), Plumbago auriclata, dwarf pomegranate (Punica nana), moss rose (Portulaca grandiflora) [see picture], marigold (Tagetes); from seed: zinnia, pumpkins, squash. Things to Ponder--A walk around the garden just before dark can be a good opportunity to hunt for snails as they emerge to feed at night.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Plants Require Extra Care In Summer Heat

From The Fresno Bee, June 10, 2010; by Elinor Teague:

Our high summer temperatures have arrived, and we will need to adjust some for our gardening routines to help our plants adjust and survive several months of hot weather.

Most gardens are looking the best I've ever seen.

The longer, cooler spring with no major hot spells has allowed an extra few weeks for newly planted trees and bushes, transplants of annuals and summer vegetables, newly planted trees and bushes, and existing perennials to establish or extend root systems.

Plantings that were stunted during the previous three years of drought and heat now are vigorously producing fruit and flowers.

It seems as though every spring and summer-blooming plant was in full flower a couple of weeks ago.

Deadheading the first crop of spent blossoms is a big chore this year, but essential to encouraging rebloom. When deadheading, cut off as few leaves as possible. Leaves produce food for the plants and also can provide a little extra shade.

For the same reason, adjust lawn mower blades to cut off only a third of the blades' length since taller grass blades shade the roots.

Shear back rapidly-growing hedges lightly but frequently. Scalping hedges and lawns in summer can cause sunburn damage.

The second crop of flowers on summer-bloomers will not be as plentiful as the first.

High temperatures in June will begin to stress plants an slow flowering production; petals will be thinner, colors will dull a but, and fragrance will not be as strong.

This is a normal reaction to heat. Keep this in mind when fertilizing and geed lightly in June. Use a lower-nitrogen (10% or less) at half the recommended rate to avoid a spurt of tender new green growth that will attract insects such as whiteflies, aphids and mealybugs.

In July and early August, when daytime temperatures regularly exceed 95 degrees, plants enter a state of semidormancy. I forgo fertilizing anything when the weather is really hot.

Wilting is the most obvious sign that plants need water, but the first sign of drought stress actually is a change in the color and texture of leaves and grass blades. Drought-stressed leaves will change from brighter green to a duller, grayish-green. Some leaves, especially on citrus, will turn up or close a little. Grass blades will show a blue shade and footprints will remain visible on hte lasn for a longer time.

Even a little stress from underwatering and overfertilizion in summer can stress plants and stressed plants attract pest insects. Feeding lightly (if at all) and monitoring irrigation systems and adjusting watering times as needed during our hot summers can prevent a lot of insect damage and reduce the use of pesticides.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Garden Checklist

From The Fresno Bee, June 10, 2010:

As June days heat up, evenings in the garden are a real treat.

Tasks--Spray fruiting pear for codling moth.
Pruning--Pinch back annuals and perennials to encourage sturdy growth.
Fertilizing--Yellow leaves may be a sign of chlorosis, which can be treated with chelated iron.
Planting--Sow seeds of any late summer or early fall blooming annuals, such as cosmos, marigold, zinnia and sunflower; cclamen; gazania, day lily (Hemerocallis), morning glory (Ipomoea), crape myrtle (Lagarstroemia indica), lantana, honeysuckle (Lonicera), chayote, okra, lobelia, nicotiana, petunia.
Things to Ponder--Spider mites can be managed by rinsing dust from foliage.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Garden Checklist

From The Fresno Bee, June 3, 2010:

Harvest vegetables and deadhead flowers regularly to encourage continued production.

Tasks--Avoid cutting lawns too severely because the resulting stress causes yellowing.
Pruning--Remove spent blooms. Cut back annuals that have stopped blooming to encourage re-bloom.
Fertilizing--Avoid fertilizing herbs as too much fertilizer reduces flavor and fragrance.
Planting--Plant summer vegetables at timed intervals to prolong harvest; fall flowering Crocus, coneflower (Echinacea), hibiscus, hydrangea, lobelia; from seed: corn, cucumber.
Things to Ponder--Plant in the cooler morning or evening hours.


We will likely be getting back to regular postings soon--I was in Idaho for a while, and Bryce has end-of-the-school testing and grading (he teaches high school). If you have any questions, I will get an answer to you! --Gard'n Judy