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January 25, 2006

Weathering Winter...
The sun is bright and the thermometer is slowly rising. It seems that the meteorological community is in agreement that the temperatures this month have been above normal. It could be as warm as 60
˚ tomorrow. No complaints here. In fact if we don't receive another cold snap (like the one we had in December) or any more snow this winter that would be fine by me. The older I get the colder I get. So far, this winter I can weather. I guess the need to find a place to overwinter may just have to wait.

There are buds on our dogwood and magnolia. If I were to give my dianthus a good haircut I bet I could get them to bloom within the next week or so. That is of course if the weather continues to cooperate. The pansies I planted last fall are still alive and well (photo). We could use some rain to give everything a good drink but I must say that things in the garden are starting to take shape. Is that good or bad? 

~ Shelly  

Mulching Tea Roses...
It's not too late to provide winter care mulch for your tea roses.  Mulching tea roses involves protecting the graft union of the plant, normally just at, or below, the soil level.  The best and easiest way to protect the graft is with a mound of soil. The mound of garden soil should be six to eight inches, poured in a cone shape right over the center of the plant. This soil should not come from the surrounding plant, as this could damage the rootsIt is best to bring soil in from another part of the garden or purchase a bag of topsoil.

A Gentler Approach To Houseplant Pests...
Insects on houseplants are a major pain.  Not only are they hurting your plants but control measures using chemicals are pretty undesirable to a lot of homeowners.  Here are three control approaches that minimize risk to you and your housemates.

  • Physically pick-off caterpillars, slugs, and other larger pests.
  • Swab pests with a small brush or cotton swab moistened with rubbing alcohol. This method is feasible when plants are small and infestations very light. It is tedious and must be done once a week over a period of time.
  • Plants can also be washed in a diluted mixture of water and insecticidal soap, or gently spray-washed with lukewarm water.  Repeated washings over a period of time are necessary to gradually reduce infestations.  

If the infestation is severe, it may be preferable to discard the plant and replace it rather than attempt chemical control.


Tipping The Scale...
Now is a great time to inspect your trees and shrubs for scale insects. With the leaves off the trees, inspecting the stems and bark crevices is much easier. Go slowly and look carefully, since many types of scale look like a part of the branch or otherwise blend in well with the host plant. Plan an application of horticultural oil if scale populations are above tolerable levels. Horticultural oil can be applied at any time of year, but temperatures should be at 40F or higher for 24 hours after an application. Be sure to read and follow all directions on the label.



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Viability Verification...
So, you're getting ready to start some seeds indoors and don't know if last year's leftovers are still good.  Well, you can start by checking the typical viability of 20 popular vegetable seeds in the table below:

Vegetable Viability
Vegetable Viability
Beans 3 Muskmelons 4-5
Broccoli 3-5 Peas 3
Brussels Sprouts 3-5 Peppers 2-3
Cabbage 3-4 Pumpkin 4-5
Carrots 3 Radish 5
Cauliflower 3-5 Spinach 5
Corn, Sweet 2 Squash, Summer 3-4
Cucumbers 5 Squash, Winter 4
Lettuce 5-6 Tomato 3-4
Lima Beans 3 Turnip 4-5

To be absolutely sure here's a trick we use to determine if seeds are still good:

  • Take ten seeds from the package and place them on a paper towel that you have moistened with warm water. 
  • Fold the paper towel over to cover the seeds.
  • Keep the towel moist and warm (on top of the fridge usually works for warmth) until they start to germinate. 
  • If less than six seeds (60%) germinate you might as well throw the rest away. 
  • If six or more germinate it will be worthwhile to plant the rest. 
  • Don't waste your test seeds!  The ones that germinate should be carefully moved to your preferred seedling container and cared for until ready for transplanting outdoors.


Seed Scarification...
The coat of certain seed is extremely tough and must be penetrated by special means.  Particularly hard seed may be scarified.  Scarification involves breaking, scratching or softening the seed coat to allow moisture penetration.  Two methods of scarification commonly used by the home gardener are mechanical and hot water.  

  • Mechanical scarification involves breaking or weakening the seed coat with a file, sandpaper or hammer. 
  • Hot water scarification involves placing seeds in water that is 170 to 210 F. After the water cools, seeds should continue to soak for 12 to 24 hours. 

Then they are planted. Specific instructions for scarification are usually mentioned on the seed packet or in the seed catalog.


Prairie Bloom Collection...
Regular readers are aware of K-State's Prairie Star Flower program.  Now they've introduced The Prairie Bloom flower collection.  This collection is different from the Prairie Star flowers in that their bloom period for perennials is shorter and less intense for annuals. Though the bloom period is shorter (ten days to two weeks) than most of our annuals, the spectacular blooms make them more than worthy of planting in our gardens. Like Prairie Star flowers, they must prove themselves under Kansas conditions. Selection is based on a 3 to 5 year performance rating in planting sites across Kansas. We have more than 90 varieties that made the cut.

All Set For Onions...
Onions are one of the earliest crops that can be planted in the garden - late March in most of eastern and central Kansas.  As they usually require 6 to 8 weeks of growing time before transplanting they should be started indoors now.  Plant onion seeds fairly close together - to inches apart in a pot or flat filled with commercial seed starting mix.  (A lot of onion plants can be grown in a small area.)  Place the container in a warm (75 to 80 F) location until the seedlings emerge.  When the seedlings are 1 to 2 inches tall, move them to a cooler (60 to 65 F) location with plenty of natural or artificial light.   After the onion seedlings are 2 to 3 inches tall, apply a soluble fertilizer with each or alternate waterings.  When they are 4 to 5 inches tall "give them a haircut" by trimming the ends of the leaves to produce a shorter, stockier plant.  In early March, move the plants to an outdoor, protected location for a few weeks prior to actual transplanting.

"Preparing a bed for roses is a little like getting the house ready for the arrival of a difficult old lady, some biddy with aristocratic pretensions and persnickety tastes. Her stay is bound to be an ordeal, and you want to give her as little cause for complaint as possible."

~ Michael Pollan

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