Introduction to Garden Plant Needs.

Hello readers, this is my first opportunity to write for The Towne Crier and I hope to provide useful information in the area of horticulture and the closely related areas of home and grounds pest management.

I'd also like to report periodically on horticultural events, discoveries, and other news items that I believe are of interest to plant lovers. I invite your questions.

Snow flurries, chilly mornings: These signal the end of the growing season as we know it. This is a time when we can contemplate what has passed. This is a time to make a map of this season's gardens, property landscape endeavors, successes and failures. You can include a diary of your property's insect, weed and disease problems. Your goal is to make 2003 your greatest success and hopefully reduce your labor as well.

A reminder about the water needs of plants. Newly planted perennials, shrubs and trees are especially vulnerable to drought stress and damage suffered over the winter because of inadequate water. You can almost guarantee their success over the winter if you remember to water them regularly, once every week to ten days in the absence of precipitation until the ground is frozen hard. Two questions beg to be answered. How much precipitation? And, how much water to give plants?

Newly planted (spring 2002 and on) need to receive at least 1" of water a week. The only accurate way to measure rain and snow fall is with a rain gauge or a home made one using a straight sided container, diameter the same from mouth to bottom. Most coffee cans and soup cans work quite well. 1" of rain or snow fall will measure 1 inch of liquid in the gauge.

Next question: How much water to give the new guys? Perennials should receive 1 gallon a week. Trees and shrubs, 5 gallons a week. If in doubt, do it manually. And remember, do this until the ground is frozen hard.

Factoid: The ground never froze in the winter of 2001-2002 in Sullivan County last winter. (The early snow that later froze locked in the warmth). Second factoid: Roots continue to grow if the soil temperature is above 45 degrees F. That's why sufficient water is so important.

About the bugs: I think many homeowners might like to know about a few major insect invaders likely to be found indoors between mid-November and early spring. There are four that come to mind that are of concern. They are the western conifer seedbug, the Asian ladybird beetle, cluster flies, and ants. The only one to be concerned with is the ant, especially if it is large and black and everything is frozen outdoors; this might indicate a problem with carpenter ants. They're usually very active during the growing season, because they come from the woods in search of sugars and fats. Seeing them mid-winter suggests they might be an invader (usually of wood that has been compromised by prolonged or excess moisture). Normally in mid-winter they are dormant, buried deep in leaf and wood litter in the forest.

The other three, the western conifer seed bug, the Asian ladybird beetle, and the cluster flies are annual visitors, kind of accidental tourists that have mistaken your home for their normal overwintering site. They do not cause damage, but are, yes, most annoying. The most frequently recommended remedy is caulking in mid-summer. I know, it takes great diligence to find and seal up every eighth inch gap of opening, and check to replace worn or damaged weather stripping.

Something most of us have feared has just been reported. The Asian longhorn beetle discovered in New York City in 1997 has been found in Jersey City, NJ. The USDA, which surveys annually, has found a nine acre site with 100 infested trees. The source of the pest remains unknown.

Please don't mulch; the plan is always to lock in the cold. Mulching before the ground is frozen will lock in the warmth and mistakenly keep the plant growing only to have it suffer damage or death when the really cold weather hits.

The last time to apply lawn fertilizer is at Thanksgiving. This is one of the best times because the top of the plant has ceased active growth, so it is the root system that is really getting the benefit of the plant food. A word of caution: many lawn fertilizers contain as a built in component a broadleaf weed killer which can do a good job of controlling plantains or dandelions among others. Remember most ornamentals are broadleaf plants and the herbicide in the fertilizer blend will not know the difference. Use judiciously or considerable damage or stress could result.

Yes, this is a great time to take soil samples, especially if you're seeking lime recommendations. The labs are usually not busy at this time of year. Contact Cornell Cooperative Extension to get a jump on planning your 2003 garden.

To come: garden calendar, hort hints, gardening suggestions, and more.


From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on November 19, 2002

© 2002 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.