Monday, November 23, 2009

More Fall Chores

Thanksgiving is a good marker for many garden chores.  It is still too early for any pruning, especially for roses, which have not yet gone dormant.  You may also want to clean up your perennial beds.  I personally like to wait until spring.  The stems and dried seed heads can be quite attractive covered in snow.  There is a benefit to leaving the stems on as it does protect the root crown.  If you feel you must cut them down now, leave at least 6" of stem above the ground.
But here is something to do if you have broadleaf evergreens, such as boxwood, azaleas and rhododendrons.  The rain we had last week didn't amount to much at my house and it has been so dry up to this point, it is a good idea to give these plants and your evergreens a long drink of water, especially the azaleas and rhodies, as they are very shallow rooted.  Another good practice is to spray them with an anti-transpirant.  This is a waxy coating that keeps them from drying out.  Wilt-Pruf is one brand, Wilt-Stop from Bonide is another.  These pictures from Wilt Pruf show the difference when
one is treated and one is not.  The waxy coating prevents the plant from drying out when the ground is frozen and the plant cannot take up water.

Wilt Pruf and Wilt Stop can also be used on holiday greens used in decorating.  If you decorate your patio containers for the holidays give them a spray of the Wilt Pruf or Wilt Stop.  This will usually keep them looking good through late winter. 

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Preparing Roses for Winter

Roses can be tricky to grow here in Northern Illinois. Selecting the proper type of rose is one way to ensure success in growing roses. Proper care is essential.

I have grown hybrid tea roses in the past but not very successfully. I’d always lose one or two over the winter. I did notice that the shrub roses I had required little care and always came back the next spring. Shrub roses are much hardier than hybrid teas and though you do sacrifice bloom size you make up for it in sheer quantity of blooms. Most climbing roses perform similarly. I have a chain link fence on one side of my garden and a couple years ago decided to plant a climbing rose to help hide the fence. I chose a zephirine drouhin, which is from a very old class of roses and very fragrant. It only blooms once a season but it also tolerates some shade.

Proper pruning in preparation for winter is key to rose growing success. Pruning any plant encourages new growth. This new growth will be very weak and will not survive over the winter. It will add stress to the plant and could end up killing the entire plant. It is important to wait until the rose is fully dormant before doing any pruning, such as you might do to fit a rose cone over it.
Yesterday I was planting some bulbs around my climber and I was stunned to see how much new growth has occurred this fall. There are new lateral branches emerging from the main canes as well as 6-8 inches of new growth at the end of the main canes. This rose is now where near dormant.

Winter Pruning Tip: Wait until all the leaves have fallen from the rose before pruning. If you use rose cones don’t put them on until the plant is fully dormant and can be safely pruned to fit under the cone. Some years this may not occur until late December! Alternatively, you can use rose collars. These are tall strips of plastic that wrap around the base of the plant and allow you to backfill with top soil or garden soil to protect the rose. Also, remember, the purpose of winter protection is not to keep the rose from freezing but rather to keep the rose in a chilled state and avoid the temperature fluctuations from mid-winter warm ups.

If you have shrub roses, you really don’t have to do much to prepare them for winter. You’ll never get them to fit under a cone or get a rose collar around them. They really don’t need the protection anyway. Next spring just prune out any dead canes or branches and give it a good shaping.

Most climbing roses bloom on old wood from last year’s growth so you don’t want to prune in the fall. You can selectively prune out dead canes in the spring or if you have to cut them back do it right after they have bloomed

If you have questions about what kind of rose you have, check with the Countryside greenhouse staff.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Fall Lawn Care

I spent most of the day raking leaves. What a chore-- and a waste. Leaf compost is such a great addition to the garden soil. Really, adding any type of organic matter can improve just about any soil. Soil too sandy? Add organic matter. Soil to heavy? Add organic matter. Soils to alkaline? Again, add organic matter. Alot of people like to use mushroom compost, which contrary to its name, is not made from mushrooms but rather the compost (the straw from horse manure, poultry litter, ground corn cobs, rice hulls, etc) in which it is grown. It can be high is salts and is not the best compost to use in our heavy clay soils. Since we have so many leaves this time of year, why not compost them instead of burning them or adding them to land fills?

My neighbor down the street piles all of his leaves directly on his veg. garden and then tills them in right before he plants in the spring. If you don't have too many leaves to deal with you can just run them over with the mower and shred them. Don't leave too thick a layer (you may want to mow several times or rake them out) since they will smother the grass which leads to many more problems next spring. Also make sure you rake the leaves out of the flower beds because a thick layer of leaves will also smother your perennials. You could rake back in shredded leaves because they break down much more easily than non-shredded leaves.

I have a rotating composter so I am going to shred the leaves with the mower and then add them to the composter. I am hoping to get a good ratio of brown (leaves) and green (grass clippings that are high in nitrogen and gets the whole process started). I am also going to make a more concerted effort to add appropriate items from the kitchen to the composter. I did this last year and got a nice batch of compost but then sort of lost interest. My brother just digs a shallow hole off to the side of his yard and fills it in with the leaves and a few shovels full of dirt to start the composting process.

As we go into the winter season, you might want to consider giving the lawn one last feeding with a low nitrogen fertilizer (10-1-10 is a good analysis) but one that is high in insoluble nitrogen so that whatever the grass doesn't absorb this fall will still be in soil for the grass next spring.

Also begin to lower the deck on your mower. Usually we recommend a mowing height of 2-3 inches but as you get close to your last mowings gradually lower it to 1-1.5 inches. This will help prevent winter diseases like snow mold.