Wintry Confines Soon to End.
The rain on March 29th sure didn't dampen any spirits at the "open house" The Towne Crier held. Thanks to all the staff who made me feel right at home, and to all the warm well wishing from both fellow columnists and many readers. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet and chat with you all.
Last column I included a little on plants that repel pests. A new plant hybrid created by an observant German gardener gives off an odor that you and I aren't bothered by but repels cats, dogs, groundhogs and foxes among others with a keen sense of smell. I expect deer, too.
This annual will be available this year. Known as "Scardy Cat" and "Dog's Gone", this proven success in Europe two years running should be a boon to American gardeners bothered by four legged pests.
More news. Daylily enthusiasts among you probably know about the rust disease discovered in the U.S. in 2000. According to the director of a major production nursery in Florida, daylily breeding has been set back 30 years. All modern varieties are apparently susceptible. If you have planted any in recent years that don't look to be vigorous, consider rouging them out and destroying them. You may save the rest of your bed.
I know Millbrook in Dutchess County isn't real close. But, if you're looking for some great gardening and related education, or a field trip to some wonderful gardens and greenhouse, or a very different plant sale (May 16-18) you don't have to go into the city. Check out Institute of Ecosystem Studies at www.ecostudies.org or call 677-9643.
So spring has sprung, you say, and it was in full evidence for March 20th. And I say, sure, even a few days before and after the first day of spring. But, typical of Sullivan County which has seen snow on Shandalee in late June, it is snowing as I write this. (It's still just barely April). Two columns ago I mentioned some insect activity I observed. Just a reminder: both plant and insect development are temperature dependent. Mother Nature provides the exquisite timing for pest and host to be available to one another at the precise moment. And, the same is true for disease pathogens.
As buds swell and leaves begin to slowly expand and leave their wintry confines, as they open, new leaves are at their most vulnerable stage since the harder, waxy surface coating that offers them some protection has not yet been produced. The new, tender, succulent leaves are particularly susceptible to infection from fungi and feeding injury from hungry insects, both, also, newly emerged from their winter quarters. So, yes, April is the time to clean you hand lens and on warm sunny days go out in search for a few early risers.
The real activity gets going in May and June. But, take heed. If you notice what appears to be decline in some of your favorite landscape plants, don't run for the sprayer. Use the lens first. And your eyes. Often plants show symptoms that mimic those caused by diseases when, in fact, the problems are environmental or cultural. This might be especially true for things planted last year.
These factors can predispose plants, trees, and shrubs to damage from fungi or insects, but first look closely with a suspicious eye for any of the following: compacted soil; too high or deep a planting depth; recent changes in grade; excessive moisture or too little; deicing salt damage or stress; improper fertilizing (too much or touching stems); improper soil pH; trunk or root girdling from wire, nylon or twine; bark injury from weed whackers or mowers; competition from a nearby tree or weeds; bad site choice (exposure to high wind, sun scald, animal damage). I always suggest a notebook or your map to make notations on.
Something you are likely to find in your scouting walk around your property are either small round holes the size of a quarter or mounds of freshly excavated soil over a broad area of grass. Suspected culprits for the smaller clean holes are pine voles which prefer soft, loamy borders and raised beds where they can feed upon bulbs, tubers, seeds and ornamental tree and shrub bark. Even roses are vulnerable.
The other more massive and noticeable soil mounds are the work of moles. Their preferred food is insects, not plant life of any form. They will feast on earthworms and especially grubs. Cats are a pretty good control for both, depending upon the size of your property. Maybe add a cat or two, if necessary.
Here is an abbreviated calendar for April:
* If you're a lawn enthusiast, when the forsythia petals begin to drop is the time to apply your crabgrass control.
* You can still prune your apple trees if a close look at the buds still reveals no color. The trees should still be dormant.
* It is never too late to test soil pH, whether for gardens, lawn, specialty crops, etc.
* Many cool season crops enjoy cool soil and frost and most can go into the ground as you read this or a week later if you can't get to the soil yet. Yes, sow seed or plant cabbage, beets, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, lettuce, onion, leeks, celery, peas, potatoes, radishes, spinach, turnips ,and parsley.
And, N.B. If you are very partial to any of the above vegetables, they will be especially productive and successful if sown again in late July or early August. Your harvest will be in the fall and bountiful.
Next column: A Mini Course: So, You Wanna Plant? Look Up, Down, All Around.
From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on April 9, 2003
© 2003 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.