This week's gardening tips from the Savvygardener.

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September 20, 2006

Feeling Fickle...
There is certainly a feel of fall in the air. Yesterday's low was a brisk 48
˚. Brrr... If you think I am sounding a bit fickle, you are right. I dislike the extreme heat and dislike the extreme cold even more. I know that 48˚ is not that cold, my mind and body are just trying to adjust. 48˚ is a far cry from the 80's we saw on Saturday. I am still holding out for an Indian Summer, cooler mornings in the 50's and warmer afternoons in the 70's. You know, perfect fall gardening weather.

Our new house seems to be a location for animal breeding. When we first moved in we found a mother duck and eggs. We got to see the eggs hatch and watch the mother and baby ducklings move on to another home (probably one without a beagle). We then discovered baby bunnies in the front yard and now we have a baby squirrel hanging around the patio (photos). I have yet to see the mother but I am sure she is around. It seems to be friendly although I have cautioned the kids on trying to get too close. I have never been a lover of squirrels so I hope their stay is temporary. The two hummingbirds who entertained us for a couple of weeks have flown away so now we are on the lookout for the next family of creatures to take up residence. As long as these creatures behave themselves and don't mess with any of my gardens they are welcome to stay. Sounds like a tall order for rabbits and squirrels.

~ Shelly  

Totally Tulips (Part 3)...
If you enjoy the thought of continuously blooming tulips in your spring garden you will need to round out the early and middle bloomers (discussed in the previous two issues) with some of these later blooming varieties:

  • Single Late Tulips incorporate the former Darwin, cottage, and breeder tulips.  Along with the Darwin hybrid tulips, they are some of the tallest tulips.  Flowers are borne on stems up to 30 inches tall and available in a wide range of colors.
  • Double Late Tulips are often referred to as peony-flowered tulips.  The many-petaled flowers are borne on 12 to 20 inch stems.  Plant double late tulips in protected locations as the large flowers can be damaged by rain and strong winds.
  • Viridiflora Tulips produce long-lasting flowers which have prominent green markings on their petals.  The unusual flower characteristics make it a novelty item in the garden.
  • Lily-flowering Tulips have long pointed petals which arch outward, the flowers somewhat resembling a lily.  Flower colors include white, pink, red, yellow, and purple. Several varieties have petals edged or feathered in contrasting colors.  Plants grow to a height of 20 to 30 inches.
  • Fringed Tulips have flowers with elegant fringed petals. Many varieties are mutants of single late tulips.  Also known as "crispa tulips."
  • Rembrandt Tulips produce striped or "broken" blooms. The white, yellow, or red petals are striped with red, bronze, or purple.  These types were bought for huge sums during the "tulip mania" in Holland in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  The unusual markings were actually caused by a virus.  Due to the virus, the original Rembrandt tulips are no longer sold.  However, there are several modern, virus-free Rembrandt tulips available.
  • Multi-flowering Tulips produce 3 to 7 blooms per stem.  The main stem of multi-flowering tulips branches into secondary stems.  Each secondary stem produces a flower.  The flower on the main stem is slightly larger than those on the secondary stems.  Many of the multi-flowering cultivars belong to the single late tulip class.  These tulips are 14- to 20-inch-tall plants which bloom late in the season.  Several varieties are multi-flowering Greigii tulips which are 8 to 12 inches tall and early blooming.

Next week, Species Tulips...


Dig This...
Fall is the preferred time to plant many trees and shrubs.  Warm soil, moderate air temperatures and autumn rains all help a tree adjust to its new environment and set down roots with a minimum of stress and shock.  If you are transplanting deciduous trees and shrubs, wait until their leaves have dropped or at least changed color.  Evergreens and conifers, however, benefit from early planting in fall.  In either case watering (1 inch weekly until the ground is frozen) and mulching the root zone are crucial to success.

Make Green Tomatoes See Red...
All this cool weather means green tomatoes are not likely to ripen on the vine. And what's worse, if a rogue frost comes our way it's game over.  Here are two approaches to getting those green tomatoes to ripen out of harm's way:

  • Remove the whole plant, roots and all, and hang it upside-down in a cool, dark area indoors or in a garage.  At temperatures in the 60's those tomatoes should ripen nicely.  Just pull them off the vine as they are individually ready.
  • If the above method is a bit messy for you try picking the green tomatoes and individually wrapping them in newspaper.  Place them in a paper bag or cardboard box and store in a cool, dark place.  Keep an eye on them periodically.  When they start to redden up unwrap them and let them finish ripening at room temperature.  Hint - If you're in a hurry place an apple in the bag with the wrapped tomatoes.

Tasty red tomatoes won't be far away!


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Only 95 Shopping Days Until Christmas...
Christmas is still several months away but if you are planning on displaying home-grown poinsettias it's time to start planning.  Poinsettias are short-day plants and must be tricked into blooming for Christmas.  Follow these steps:

  • Find a dark, cool (around 55 degrees) place where the plant will be kept at "night".  It must be absolutely dark as even short exposure to a light bulb will throw the process out of kilter.
  • Place the poinsettia in this dark place at 5 Pm and leave it there until 8 AM the following day.
  • Between 8 AM and 5 PM place it in a sunny window where temperatures will remain near 70 degrees.  
  • Do this for 11 weeks, watering and fertilizing as usual.

With care and patience you should have healthy, blooming poinsettias for the holidays.

Beyond Soil Tests...
Though soil tests are useful for identifying nutrient deficiencies as well as soil pH, they do not tell the whole story. In addition to issues related to water and sunshine here are some factors that can affect plant growth that are not due to nutrient deficiencies or pH.

  • Too much phosphorus: While most Kansas City area soils are naturally low in phosphorus, soils that have been fertilized for a number of years may have phosphorus levels that are quite high. Too much phosphorus can interfere with the uptake of some micronutrients such as iron, manganese and zinc. High phosphorus soils should only be fertilized with fertilizers that have relatively low amounts of phosphorus.
  • Poor soil physical characteristics: Roots need oxygen as much as they need water. A tight clay soil can restrict soil oxygen levels as well as make root penetration of the soil difficult. Increasing the organic matter content of clay soils can help break them up. Add a 2-inch layer of organic matter and till it in.
  • Walnut trees: Walnuts give off a natural herbicide that interferes with the growth of some plants such as tomatoes. Vegetable gardens should be at least 50 feet away from walnut trees if possible. 
  • Tree roots: Trees not only compete with other plants for sun but also for water and nutrients. Extra water and nutrients may be needed.
  • Shallow soils: When new homes are built, the topsoil is often stripped off before the soils are brought to grade. Though the topsoil should be replaced, it sometimes is not or is not replaced to the same depth as it was originally. You are left with a subsoil that usually does not allow plants to grow well due to a lack of soil structure. Adding topsoil to a depth of 8 to 12 inches would be best but this often is not practical. In such cases, try to rebuild structure by adding organic matter and working it into the soil.


Needle Drop...
It's not unusual for Savvygardeners to start seeing noticeable needle drop on some of their pines. This is a process where 2 to 4-year-old interior needles turn yellow, then brown, and eventually drop off. Don't be alarmed! This is a natural phenomenon that occurs every year and does not hurt the tree. However, some years it is much more noticeable than others. Still worried?  Be sure to check that only the older needles are affected (the needles on the tips of the branches should look fine) and that there is no spotting or banding on the needles that are turning yellow.


New Turf Tips...
If you planted grass seed and have new grass coming in here are a couple of good reminders for you:

  • Keep it cut to about 2 inches.  Just be careful that mower wheels don't tear the grass from the soil.
  • Don't apply any herbicides or insecticides until the new grass has been mowed three times.  

"No two gardens are the same. No two days are the same in one garden."

~ Hugh Johnson

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