Spring is a good time to be planting trees, shrubs and evergreens in the home landscape. We have lost so many trees to the Emerald Ash borer, other wood boring insects and diseases lately that some communities look bare, especially when all the street and parkway trees were ash. Since the drought in 2012, needled evergreens have not fared too well either. Arborvitae and Spruce have taken a hard hit as have Austrian pine. There are needle cast blights that have really established themselves, especially on older mature or stressed evergreens.
Most of the spring blooming shrubs and small ornamental trees in the home landscape already have their flower buds ready to go right now. The flower buds were created last summer and have overwintered protected by insulating bud scales. As cabin fever has just about hit the peak for a lot of us, consider bringing a bit of spring indoors early. We have had enough cold weather to trigger bloom if those branches are cut and brought indoors. Choose branches that have lot of flower buds.
Just about now, you can see holiday trees sitting in the front or side yard, waiting for the assigned pick up date to be collected and mulched. This is one way to be sure your holiday tree gets recycled to the benefit of the environment. The follow through to getting your tree composted in a community program is to be sure your take advantage of the composted material later by bringing some back home and using it in your landscape beds. Those fallen needles that need to be collected can go to the compost pile.
January 2013 was recorded as the second warmest in 35 years. The high for January 29, 2013 was 62 degrees. That memory has likely faded away deeper and deeper as we shovel our 33+ inches of snow we have had this winter.
The weather has caught us all by surprise and there can be some leftover gardening projects still unfinished. If that bag or box of spring flowering bulbs is still sitting in the garage, the ground is not frozen and planting those bulbs will be easy. Follow the directions for proper planting depth and put some bone meal in the bottom of the hole as part of the planting process. We are supposed to get some break in the weather, so pick your day carefully by watching the weather closely.
Our beautiful ornamental flowering crabapples that grace so many yards have a couple of foliage diseases that can really impact how our flowering crabapples look once the bloom show is gone. Both diseases readily infect the crabapple leaf.
Just about this time every year, homeowners that have a Sycamore tree in the home landscape begin to notice problems. Leafing out late or seeing a second set of buds and then leaves form is not normal. While Sycamores seem to be the worst, the disease called anthracnose also infects other trees as well. Anthracnose is favored by cool wet spring weather with temperatures for several days in the low 50’s, something we had a lot of in the Fox valley.
The mail carrier is currently catching his breath after a hurried season of delivering holiday cards and packages. The many flower and seed catalogs will be the next thing showing up in our mailboxes courtesy of the post office. Starting in January, which is typical, now you can expect the catalogs you have requested and a bunch more you had not.
Cold weather has already given peach trees in the home orchard a knock down punch for 2014. When temperatures reach -10 degrees, peach flower buds start to die. For every degree below -10 degrees, we lose another 10% of what was left until all the peach flower buds have been killed. The foliage buds are able to withstand these colder temperatures so the peach trees live on to fruit another day. Like other fruit trees, peaches produce flower buds every year. It is just a gamble whether or not we have severe winter temperatures during the winter.
Plants return to growth having gone dormant to survive our winter months.
Pantry pests are those tiny grain beetles and flour moths that use the leftover flour to feed and live in. This phenomenon is not uncommon as many homes do not routinely bake during other times of the year.
Our spring bulbs need a cold treatment to trigger them into growing and blooming each spring. That is why if you are going to "force" spring bulbs indoors, they first must be left in the cold or kept in a refrigerator for a period of weeks before you plant them into pots to force or you can pot them up and then store the pots and all.
The annual passage of winter to spring finally has begun. This last week has seen a big green change in the neighborhoods, and the smell of fresh-cut grass is in the air. There are a few easy guidelines to having a better-looking lawn without much more work.
January is not too early to start to plan for a new home orchard or to consider replacements for aging fruit trees in an existing orchard. There are several different kinds of fruit trees to consider, including apple, cherry, peach, pear and plum.
As we live in the northern portion of Illinois, apple is likely the main fruit tree grown in back yards and commercial orchards. Certainly at the commercial level you will be able to pick just about every fruit you want, but in the home orchard, apples are a good place to start.
All the rain and cooler weather has really started a change in the home landscape and vegetable garden.The fall and cooler season vegetables really like this weather and have been growing well. Those warm season vegetables like tomatoes and peppers begin to shut down as night time temperatures slow them down even with more normal daytime temperatures. If the idea is to go ahead and let Mother Nature finish off the garden, be sure to harvest any vegetables that are mature as those have a chance of ripening inside the home.
Just what do fruit tree experts mean when they say, "You need train your fruit tree?" Home orchardists need to train their trees for structure to encourage fruit production, to have a high-yielding home orchard, and to have a tree that can hold the fruit load without needing to prop or tie up the branches. The scaffold branches are positioned to allow good sunlight throughout the canopy to promote fruit production from the interior to the outside of your tree's canopy. This also will allow air circulation in the canopy, reducing leaf and fruit diseases, so you benefit in two ways.
Now that the Holidays and Super bowl Sunday are over and pretty much our lives have returned to a more normal routine, there may be some insects beginning to show up in the pantry or kitchen. Leftover baking goods are usually the culprit and enough time has passed that we should be on the lookout.
Where you place your dwarf fruit tree home orchard, or even the one or two fruit trees you are going to grow, makes a big difference in how the fruit tree grows and performs. A major consideration is the soil in the area you are considering for your fruit trees. Fruit trees are no different than other trees and shrubs in your landscape; they need good soil drainage.
Lots of tree planting happened in the Fox Valley this past fall. The replanting has been pushed by the continuing tree population decline from the Emerald Ash borer, a boring insect that has now killed millions of ash trees in the Midwest. The other major reason homes have replanted trees has been the long term decline of our landscape and shade trees from the drought of 2012 and terrible winter of 2013/2014. Plant diseases and other insects attacking many plants have caused additional plant loses.
Cucumbers spread cucumber wilt.
This very erratic spring weather is really making it difficult to plan the spray program for the home orchard. Fungicide sprays for Apple Scab and Cedar Apple Rust need to be started at the right time. Both diseases begin with our cool wet weather early in the year. The spores really like the cool wet weather since they can travel farther before drying out and dying. The indicator that it is time to spray is something called “green tip”, when the buds have broken and just the very tip of the new green emerging growth has emerged from the protective scales on our apple and crabapple trees.
Master Gardeners have been very busy with clientele bringing anything from a single weed to an entire bushel basket full of weeds pulled from the yard. Weed seeds typically germinate in the spring while there is ample soil moisture and good strong sunlight. This is true for all our weeds, annuals, bi-annuals and perennials alike.
This column has talked about the many impacts of our 2012 drought and why our trees, shrubs and evergreens have had such a struggle regaining their health and returning to a good annual rate of growth over the past 2 years. Lawns were clearly a victim of the drought too and so many calls to the Master Gardeners have been about identifying never before seen weeds in the lawn and then what can be done about them. Lawns are perhaps the most easily stressed plants in the home landscape.