Missouri Organic

This Week's Timely Tips from the Savvygardener

May 18, 2011

In This Issue
Mulch Matters
Is That Poison Ivy?
Pests Attacking Annuals
On Your Mark, Get Set, Pinch
Why Plants Don't Always Bloom
Tastier Herbs
Soupy Sod

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~All About Mulch
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Seeds Indoors
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Shrub Pruning Calendar
~Pruning Clematis 
~Gardening in the Shade
~Summer-Flowering Bulb Care
~Drought-Tolerant Flowers for KC
~Preparing for a Soil Test
~ Changing the pH of Your Soil
~Growing Herbs
~When to Harvest Vegetables
~ Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
~Organic Pesticides & Biopesticides
~Cold Frames & Hot Beds
~When to Divide Perennials
~Dividing Spring Blooming Perennials
~Forcing Bulbs Indoors
~Overseeding A Lawn
~Pruning Trees
~Pruning Shrubs
~Planting Trees
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This Week's Phots


There are Savvygardeners everywhere! Monday, I was playing tennis at Hallbrook and our opponents on the court started talking about planting and how one of the gals was a huge gardener. Well, since that conversation is right up my alley, I had to jump in. The Savvygardener I acquainted myself with was Kathy Hardwick. After introductions and making a connection we casually fell into what every gardener wants to know this time of year, "What are you planting?" Kathy talked about the trees she recently purchased at the Arboretum plant sale. It sounds as if she found some great ornamentals to plant and I was then disappointed that I didn't make it to the sale myself. Just goes to show you that garden-talk is a universal language. You would have thought that Kathy and I have been friends forever due to our comfortable banter. She ended up beating me at tennis but I have to say it was a little easier to swallow knowing that I lost to a fellow gardener. I always enjoy meeting other gardeners, especially the Savvy kind :-)

Monday and Tuesday were perfect outside days (finally). It was great to see the sun again. Last weekend's cold, March-like weather was unbearable. We attended our sons soccer game late Sunday afternoon and it was downright cold. I wore a winter coat, hat and gloves and was still chilled to the bone. Hopefully we are done with those colder temperatures and the days to come will bring warmth and sunshine. It looks like rain is in the forecast for the next couple of days. It keeps me inside but I am not going to complain. We just recently laid a bunch of sod and planted a new perennial garden (photos) so a good rain will help what we've planted get off to a good start. A good rainy day is sometimes a good thing; It allows me to get the laundry done.

~ Shelly
Mulch Matters...

Mulching your garden is one of the best things you can do to help retain soil moisture and keep weeds at bay. Here are some common mulching materials and a few thoughts on each:

  • Bark Mulches are very common and effective. They are available as chips, chunks, nuggets or shredded. In addition to being generally attractive bark mulches resist compaction quite well.
  • Wood Chips are also common, effective and economical. They can deplete the soil of nitrogen however so additional fertilizing may be required.
  • Pine Needles are especially good around acid loving plants like azaleas and blueberries.
  • Straw is inexpensive and is often used in large vegetable gardens. Make sure it is free of crop and weed seeds or you're just making more work for yourself.
  • Grass Clippings should only be used after they have dried out thoroughly. If the source lawn has weeds your mulched garden will likely get them too. Not too attractive.
  • Rocks can be attractive and effective but they don't provide any of the decomposition benefits of organic mulches. Rock mulch in direct sun can get quite hot causing problems for some tender plants.
  • Black Plastic and Fabric aren't much to look at but they do keep the weeds down.

As a general rule mulching with anything is better than not mulching at all. It's that effective.


For an in-depth look at this important topic don't miss All About Mulch in our Features section.


Is That Poison Ivy?

Learning to identify poison ivy is vital if you wish to avoid the rash that accompanies exposure. Unfortunately, poison ivy can make identification difficult because it occurs in three forms: an erect woody shrub, a groundcover that creeps along the ground, and a woody vine that will climb trees. When poison ivy climbs, it forms numerous aerial roots that gives the vine the appearance of a fuzzy rope. The leaves of poison ivy also vary. Though the compound leaf always has three leaflets, the leaf margins may be toothed, incised, lobed or smooth. The size of the leaves can also vary though usually the middle leaflet is larger than the other two. Also, the middle leaflet is the only one with a long stalk; the other two are closely attached to the petiole (leaf stem). The number of leaves gives rise to the saying: "Leaves of three, let it be!" Poison ivy is often confused with Virginia creeper. Virginia creeper, however, has five leaflets rather than three.



Pests Attacking Annuals...


So, your newly planted annuals don't look so good. Chances are they are the victims of any number of pests. Here are some of the most common problems and some quick solutions:


  • If the leaves on your marigolds turn to "lace", earwigs or slugs are probably nibbling on them at night. Spray with Sevin for earwigs (best in late dusk after bees have stopped feeding). To control slugs apply a product like Sluggo around the plant.
  • Cutworms will eat off newly planted plants at the soil line. Add aluminum foil collars to the stems to protect the plants from the worms.
  • If aphids or spider mites are a problem, spray with insecticidal soap.


On Your Mark, Get Set, Pinch...


No, this isn't a race but if you start pinching back aster, garden phlox and mums now you're sure to win later! Pinching back the blooms will encourage bushier plants with more flowers. After some of your summer perennials have tired out and are no longer blooming these plants will start to peak and will add that much needed color to your garden. Soooo, no need to dust off the running shoes for this race just limber up those thumbs and start pinching! 

Why Plants Don't Always Bloom...


One of the most common questions we get asked is simply, "Why won't my plant bloom?" Why indeed? There are often several factors involved but most can be explained by one of the following circumstances:

  • Age of Plant - Being too young or immature is a very common reason that many trees do not flower. Plants need to reach a certain level of maturity before they begin to flower each year.
  • Shade - Lack of adequate light is another very common reason that many types of plants do not flower. Plants may grow but not flower in the shade.
  • Cold or Frost Injury - Cold weather may kill flower buds or partially opened flowers. Plants that are not fully hardy in our area are the most susceptible to this type of cold injury.
  • Drought - Flowers or flower buds dry and drop off when there is temporary lack of moisture in the plants.
  • Improper Pruning - Some plants bloom only on last year's wood. Pruning plants at the wrong time of the year can remove the flower buds for next year's blossoms. Many spring flowering plants, such as azaleas begin setting next year's flower buds in the late spring.  Pruning these plants in the summer or fall may prevent flowering next year. Cutting back a plant severely, such as with climbing roses, can remove all the flowering wood.
  • Nutrient Imbalance - Too much nitrogen can cause plants to produce primarily leaves and stems. The plant will be large and usually very green and healthy but will have few or no flowers.


Tastier Herbs...


There are lots of good reasons to grow herbs. First on my list is for cooking. Nothing compares to the taste of fresh herbs added to your favorite dish. I used to buy pesto in a jar. I thought it was good until I started making my own from garden-fresh basil. There's no going back folks.


If cooking is your goal make sure you do not fertilize your herbs too much. The essential oils that provide flavor are more concentrated when herbs are grown in moderately rich soil with just enough fertilizer to keep them green. Too much fertilizer encourages the plant to grow large but at the sacrifice of less flavor. To get greater quantities without sacrificing quality simply grow many more, albeit smaller, plants.

Soupy Sod...

watering can

Whether you have laid a full yard of sod or are just doing a little patchwork you need to make sure that your newly laid sod gets the right amount of water. This means keeping it really wet (soupy) for the first week or two. Ideally the sod and soil you are covering will be wet to a depth of 3-4 inches. For a whole yard this means running the sprinkler a lot. For patch work you can probably give the area a good manual soaking 3-4 times a day. After two weeks you should be able to back off the watering a bit, providing the sodded area with a good soak each morning - again it's important that the sod and soil stay wet. After four weeks your sod should be established enough to live on a deep watering 2-3 times a week. 


"There is no other door to knowledge than the door Nature opens; and there is no truth except the truths we discover in Nature. "

~ Luther Burbank

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