Tuesday, November 29, 2011

More Fall Chores

These pictures are from Wilt Pruf
One of the last chores for the season is prepping broad leaf evergreens for winter. Broad leaf evergreens sounds like an oxymoron. Most evergreens with which we are familiar are the needled variety, such as firs, pines and spruces. These are trees that have adapted to drier climates by having needles instead of leaves. The needles are green and still undergo photosynthesis but have a lot less surface area so that the moisture inside doesn’t evaporate as quickly. 
Broad leaf evergreens are shrubs such as azaleas, rhododendrons, boxwood and holly. They really aren’t adapted to our climate or soil but yet we still plant them so we do have a little work to do to keep them happy. Because of their broad leaves that stay on the plant all year they are really susceptible to our drying winter winds. The wind flows over the leaf and just dries them out. This is really damaging for azaleas and rhododendrons because they set their flower buds in the fall. If they get stressed during the winter the first thing they do is go into "survivor" mode and drop the buds in order to protect the rest of the plant.

Azaleas at Uncle Bill's house in MD
To keep this from happening you can wrap the shrubs in burlap or apply an anti-transpirant. There are several anti-transpirants on the market. The most widely available are Wilt Pruf and Wilt Stop. These are organic polymers that make a waxy coating on the leaf so the moisture stays in the plant. You can apply it now and then again around Valentine’s Day. These products can also be used on fresh cut Christmas trees, wreaths, roping and porch pots and they do the same thing as on live shrubs: they keep the moisture in so they last a lot longer without dropping their needles. You can also use these products in the summer when planting or transplanting. The polymer coating helps the plant retain moisture and reduces transplant shock.
Be sure to water your needled evergreens, as well as your broadleaf evergreens, when ever the temperature gets above freezing for an extended period of time. All evergreens continue to undergo photosynthesis and transpire during the winter and they need to replace the water they have lost through this process.

The Northern Lights is the tall
yellow plant in the middle
Here is something to aspire to.  This picture on the right was taken at my great uncle's house in Maryland.  There they have the right climate and soil conditions to grow great azaleas without really trying.  Because of our alkaline soils and harsh winters it is really hard for us to grow broadleaf evergreens, especially azaleas.  They do not reliably flower because of the stress during winter.  If you really want to grow azaleas try the Northern Lights series.  These are azaleas that are deciduous.  They survive our winters because they go dormant and drop their leaves.  Are they as stunning as the ones at my uncle's? In a word no, but that is the trade off. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Fall Leaf Cleanup

The last little tomato
I was up on my roof last week blowing leaves out of the gutters with my leaf blower. After I was done I spent a minute looking out over the neighborhood and my own garden and contemplated the summer. Neighbor Ed’s garden was a huge success I would say. Now there isn’t much left except the stems from his tomato and pepper plants and maybe a stray watermelon. I have one little green tomato on my plant that probably won’t be there much longer, especially if we have a hard freeze like they are predicting.  
Leaves are a real problem this time of year. So many of them and what do you do: burn them? Bag them? Hope they blow into the neighbors yard? My neighbor down the street rakes them all on to his garden and lets them decompose over the winter and then tills them into the soil. This adds organic matter and nitrogen.

Before the mower...
I am doing something a little different. I have been blowing the leaves onto the lawn and then running them over with the lawn mower. The mower chops them up into dime sized pieces and does a good job of spreading them around. Over the winter they will start to decompose and next year the worms will slowly move the organic matter down into the soil.

Neighbor Dave has been mulching and bagging and so far he’s had about 15 bags of leaves out for the trash guy to take. I haven’t had any bags. I feel pretty good that I have kept a similar amount of leaves out of the land fill and here in my own yard to add to my own soil. I suppose you could make the argument that I used up some gas and caused some pollution by running my lawn mower but I would have been mowing the lawn anyway.

...after the mower
So why is it important to add organic matter to our soil? Well, no matter if your soil is heavy clay soil or sandy and well drained, all soil can benefit with the addition of organic matter. Organic matter breaks up heavy clay soil making it better for plant roots to move through the soil and become established. When soil is too sandy, organic matter helps it retain moisture. Organic matter also slowly changes the soil pH to more acidic, which most plants like. Our soil tends to be too alkaline, which reduces the plants’ ability to take up available nutrients. Adding organic matter to the garden or to perennial beds is easy because we can top dress with compost but getting it into the soil of an already established lawn in more difficult that’s why mulching leaves and leaving on the lawn is a good idea.

I haven’t yet put a winterizer fertilizer on my lawn and I will probably do so next week. The major holidays are a good reminder for yard chores and Thanksgiving is the reminder for winterizer. Putting fertilizer on in the late fall may seem odd since the grass is going somewhat dormant but it actually gets the lawn ready for spring. And Thanksgiving is probably a good time to ready the mower for winter as well.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fall Chores

Nursery in Lake Como, Italy
I went to Italy last month and as usual I am always interested in seeing what the local horticultural industry is up to. We were in the Naples area and on the train between Naples and Sorrento I noticed numerous greenhouses and hoop houses (like Houses 5-21 at Countryside). Even speeding by at however fast the train was going I saw long stem roses and carnations. It was hard to resist the urge to get off the train to try and find the growing operations. Another crop I noticed growing was chrysanthemums. Our chrysanthemum season is about over but theirs was barely started! I did a little research when I got home and learned the Italy is the third largest producer of cut flowers. They also purchase 5% of all cut flowers. I did stop at a little nursery in Lake Como up by the train station and took a few pictures. I tried in my terrible Italian to explain to the woman working there that I also worked at a garden center but I don’t think I was successful.  
Always on the job!
Well, when I left it was the last of summer but I came back to fall and fall chores. If you are still mowing be sure to lower the mower deck a little bit each time you mow. Leaving the grass too long over the winter encourages disease as the grass flops over and doesn’t get good air circulation. It’s not too late for a last feeding of winterizer for the lawn. You could even wait until later this month to do it. 
If you are really in the mood for tidying up in the garden, you could cut back the perennials but don’t cut them all the way to the ground. I always like to leave the stems until spring. This gives the snow cover something to stick to and provides insulation through the winter and protects the plant against crown rot.

Rose Collars
Rose Cone
For you rosarians, we recommend using rose collars rather than rose cones. You can put the rose collars on now. They go around the base of the plant and then you fill the collar with top soil. Contrary to popular belief, this does not keep the plant from freezing. What it does is once the ground has frozen it keeps it frozen so that the plant does not undergo a freeze/thaw cycle. Sometimes in January or February we have a bit of a warm up and this can fool the plants into coming out of dormancy. Then we get a hard freeze that shocks the plants and can kill them. If you use rose cones, wait until the rose is fully dormant before pruning it back to fit the rose cone over it. Sometimes this isn’t until after Christmas. If we do get a warm up, remove the rose cone or remove the lid if it has one, so moisture doesn’t build up inside the cone.

And one last thing... Friday, November 11th is the Countryside Wine Tasting. This is a great event, not to be missed. The Countryside staff will all be there to kick off the holiday season with you.  Here's a link to the website with information about all the upcoming holiday events.