Sunday, April 2, 2017

To Prune or Not to Prune - Azaleas

Timing is everything to ensure a colorful spring.

With the weather becoming more pleasant you might be eager to do some pruning on your shrubbery.  Pruning some plants at the wrong time can prevent them from blooming.  Spring flowering shrubs such as azaleas and camellias set their flower buds the previous summer. Do not prune these plants until after they bloom.  
Camellias are slow growing and need just a little pruning to improve air circulation.  Thin out interior branches and keep the lower branches off the ground.  Clean up old blooms from the ground and replace the mulch to prevent flower fungal diseases. 
Azaleas are one of the most popular plants in the south and yet so misunderstood.  They are often pruned at the wrong time of the year. It is the short nights of summer that triggers the plant to form buds for next spring’s flowers.  Drought in summer can adversely affect the quantity and quality of flowers too.  When you prune azaleas anytime from summer to spring you will be cutting off flower buds.  The best time to prune Azaleas is just after they finish blooming until the first week in June. Shape azalea bushes into mounds. The lower branches should extend beyond the top of the plant. This will allow sunlight to reach the lower limbs. Too often I see bushes given a flat top. They look like the Yorktown Aircraft Carrier.  But take a closer look and you will see the bottom limbs are dead due to lack of sunlight. Azaleas do not need to be pruned every year.  I recommend cutting them back to knee high every 3 years and let them grow naturally the other 2 years. Feed them some organic fertilizer and plenty of water after you prune them and mulch with pine straw. You will be rewarded with a fabulous display of color next spring.

 Spring is a good time to shop for azaleas at local garden centers. This is the best way to ensure you get the colors you want. Look for new cultivars that bloom more than once. There is a new series of azaleas called Encore because they will bloom again in the summer or fall.  ‘Autumn Royalty’ is one of my favorites. The purple flowers bloom in the spring and again from August through November.  ‘Autumn Royalty’s’ purple flowers will pop when planted with yellow flowers.  There are over 25 of these multi-season azaleas now on the market and one of them is sure to become your favorite too.
Keep in mind this general rule of thumb. Prune spring blooming plants after they bloom, prune summer bloomers before they bloom.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Building a Better Tomato

Blossom end rot is common problem in tomatoes, but it can be found in other vegetables like peppers, cucumbers and eggplants.  Developing fruit have a calcium deficiency in the tissue which appears as a soft dark spot on the end of the fruit.  The problem is easy to prevent, but hard to cure.  Calcium is not readily available in soil with a low pH and adding dolomite lime will raise the pH and add calcium. Removing crops from the garden can deplete the soil of calcium and other elements. Potting soil has little if any calcium.  Young plants can absorb calcium better than older plants, so it is best to add calcium at planting time. If your pH is good, you can add Gypsum to your soil instead of lime. Gypsum is a natural mineral form of Calcium sulfate.  I recommend, when planting vegetables in the garden, mix 2-3 tablespoons of gypsum in the planting hole.  For potted plants, add about ¼ cup of gypsum to 3-5 gallons of potting soil.  Keep in mind that Calcium and other minerals are moved through plants with water and drought stress will also cause blossom end rot.  #blossomendrot

Gypsum is like duct tape for gardeners – it can fix a number of problems in the garden cheaply.
Gypsum also adds essential mineral sulfur along with calcium to the soil. Adding Gypsum will not change the soil pH.
In heavy clay soils, adding gypsum will loosen the clay and improve drainage.
Gypsum will displace salt and will help heal problems caused by pet urine in lawns. Just sprinkle about 1 cup around the affected area and water it in.
In garden ponds, gypsum can help settle clay and dirt particles, making the water clearer.
Gypsum will displace salts and will save a landscape when seawater washes over during a storm. 

In case you were wondering, gypsum is used in construction to make plaster.  The ancient Egyptians used gypsum to cover the walls inside the pyramids.  However wasn’t till 1769 that a German scientist, Johann Friedrich Mayer, discovered that gypsum made a great fertilizer. #gypsum

Shrimp and Crab Meal are great sources of natural calcium too; they also have Nitrogen, phosphorus and other trace elements.  Crab (4-3-0) Shrimp (6-6-0)

Magnesium sulfate, commonly known as Epsom Salt, Add a table spoon of this at planting and again every spring.  Magnesium is important for chlorophyll production. Plant proteins are made with Sulfur. Epsom Salt Foliage spray 2 tablespoons per gallon or 1lb. per 1000 sq feet
I don’t think I can say enough about adding Mushroom Compost  to any garden soil  Getting compost in the ground before you plant will be more beneficial than trying to add some later. Also adding a truck load of compost will raise your bed and improve drainage

Friday, December 30, 2016

All that Glitters are not Goldfinches

A friend of mine had a flock of small birds at her feeders that she could not identify. She had looked in books but the dull yellowish grey birds were a mystery. I asked her could they be Pine Warblers or Yellow-rumped Warblers and she said  “No they did not look like any of those birds.”  It dawned on me that she had a flock of Goldfinches at her feeders but the small bird field guide she had only showed birds in their summer plumage.  Many birds have such different seasonal plumages that they look like completely different birds.  It is important to purchase a bird field guide or smart phone app that has all a bird’s plumages. Some smart phone apps also come with bird songs and calls and this feature can help correctly identify some birds.  The flight call of the American Goldfinch sounds like they are chirping “potato chip, potato chip, potato chip”. While most birds fly in beautifully synchronized flocks, a goldfinch flock looks like chaos.  A goldfinches flight pattern looks they are on a roller coaster, as one bird swoops up another swoops down.  I have often wondered why they don’t collide.
Like other finches, the goldfinch has a short conical bill that is ideal for opening and consuming seeds.  At the feeder, they can quickly clean you out.  They prefer oil sunflower and nyjer seeds at the feeders and will eat on the feeders or on the ground.  In the wild, they seek out seeds of any member of the aster family with thistle and dandelion being some of their favorites. They also eat grass and other weed seeds. Unlike other song birds which consume some insects, the goldfinch has a pure vegetarian diet.
Goldfinches live in central Virginia year round. They change their plumage twice a year.  In late summer, they transform from sunny yellow to dull little birds.  In the late winter, they shed their dull winter feathers for bold summer colors.
Goldfinches are our smallest finch; they are about the size of a chickadee. They are often seen feeding with House finches in the winter.   Keep your feeders full this winter and when spring comes, maybe you will be able to see them change into their colorful summer feathers.