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Archive for March, 2011

The snow was beautiful but my daffodils were bent over from the weight.

The snow was beautiful but my daffodils were bent over from the weight. Our little "mouse house" was warm and cozy, though!

It snowed here yesterday. Not a lot but enough to cover the ground, the shrubs, and the trees and make everything look really pretty.

The Helleborus foetidus was nodding a bit more than usual under the weight of the snow. It will bounce back easily.

The Helleborus foetidus was nodding a bit more than usual under the weight of the snow but it will bounce back easily.

“Poor man’s fertilizer”, my mom would say of this late season snowfall. It’s not really late for snow in many areas of the country but here in Virginia, it is a little unusual to get accumulating snow this late in March.

But what about spring snow being “poor man’s fertilizer” – is there any truth in this old saying?

Well, in a word – yes! The fact is that any precipitation, be it snow or rain, picks up and accumulates some nitrogen and other elements as it falls through the air and then deposits them on the land. These nutrients seep into the soil where they can become available to our plants. Keep in mind though; we’re not talking about a lot of extra nitrogen here.

Time will tell if the poor daffodils will recover from the snow. I should have gone out with my shears on Saturday!

Time will tell if the poor daffodils will recover from the snow. I should have gone out with my shears on Saturday!

So, if rain also contains some nutrients, why does snow, not rain, carry this reputation?

Good question! The main reason is that snow lays on the ground and melts slowly, usually releasing moisture and nutrients into the soil over an extended period of time. It’s like nature’s slow release “fertilizer”! The reason that a spring snow is specifically called “poor man’s fertilizer” is because snow in the spring typically falls on unfrozen ground and therefore all the good stuff can percolate slowly into the soil with very little runoff. In fact, this is one of the drawbacks to rain. Often our rain comes fast and furious or at least faster than the ground can absorb at one time and a lot of the nitrogen and other nutrients held in the rain drops are carried away in the runoff. When snow melts slowly, the water and nutrients can be absorbed into the soil. Some farmers would actually go out and plow the fields after a spring snow just to incorporate the “extra nutrients” into the ground.

This spring snow has come at a time when many of our plants are beginning to come out of their dormant period. I’m sure this little bit of extra nitrogen, however small, and the slow, even watering of the melting snow will surely be welcomed!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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I was sitting on the sofa the other night minding my own business when all of a sudden I was dive bombed! “What in the world was that?” When it thunked on the lampshade, I knew exactly what it was – a STINK BUG! Then last night we found another one crawling on the back of the sofa behind my daughter.

Ugg – they’re on the move again!

The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug is large and armored with a thick chitinous exoskeleton

The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug is large and armored with a thick chitinous exoskeleton.

The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (Halyomorpha halys) has not only become an annoying invader of our homes but their populations have exploded to the point that they have become a major threat to many agricultural crops including both ornamentals and food crops.

Native to Asia, the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug is a relative newcomer to the US being first reported in Pennsylvania in 1998. Since then their numbers and range have slowly increased and they are now found in 30 different US states and are still on the move.

Heavy stink bug damage on a tomato documented in 2010 by Jerry  Brust, UME IPM Vegetable Specialist

Heavy stink bug damage on a tomato documented in 2010 by Jerry Brust, University of Maryland Extension IPM Vegetable Specialist

The stink bugs have remained mostly inactive over the winter but now that the weather is warming up, they are beginning to creep out of their hiding places in cracks and crevasses in and around your home. March and April is the time when they begin to venture forth into the landscape to find a mate, lay eggs, and begin a new cycle of devastation. Soon these pests will be buzzing around your fruit trees and invading your vegetable garden. Given the masses that were around last year, this year will no doubt be worse. Stink bugs are extremely prolific which is why they have become such an important pest species. Given the right conditions, they can produce up to 3 generations in a single season.

Stink bugs are piercing/sucking insects that damage leaves, stems, and fruits by boring in with their proboscis and sucking out plant juices. This causes wilting of leaves and discoloration and disfiguring of fruits and vegetables. There have been some reports that the damage they inflict to fruits and vegetables can actually alter their taste. Many home gardeners had severe problems with these nasty pests last season; in vegetable gardens and in the landscape. Some commercial growers lost entire crops of corn, beans, tomatoes, peppers, apples, peaches, and other fruits and berries. Then in the fall, they added insult to “injury” by invading our homes looking for a nice warm, cozy place to overwinter. These foreigners are bad news!

These guys are probably going to be a real problem this year!

These guys are probably going to be a real problem this year!

Because this particular species of stink bug is having such an impact on fruit and vegetable crops, a lot of research is being directed towards developing control methods. Some of this research is focusing on natural enemies and pheromone traps in addition to chemical controls. For the time being, exclusion is the best preventative measure for controlling populations indoors. One of last fall’s gardening tips focused on indoor controls.

As far as outdoor control in the landscape, orchard, and vegetable garden, the research is still ongoing. They’re investigating many different lines of defense! Stay tuned – as the season progresses, I’m sure I’ll be posting more about these “stinkers”!

In the meantime, put your seat belt on – it’s going to be a rough ride this season and that just “STINKS”!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Male Spring Peeper calling (Hyla crucifer), North America.

Male Spring Peeper calling (Hyla crucifer), North America.

No, I’m not talking about songs of the robins; I’m talking about the spring peepers! The noisy trills of these little tree frogs always reassure me that spring is well on its way.

I’ve seen other key signs, too. Some, like the blooming of our daffodils in the front bed, took me by surprise. Maybe I wasn’t very observant but all of a sudden last Friday; there they were in full bloom! I thought, “Now when did that happen?” It’s spring – almost.

Early spring daffodils blooming in my garden.

Early spring daffodils blooming in my garden.

Yesterday as I was driving home from work, I detected another sure sign that spring is “in the air”. Wafting through my open windows was the distinctive “aroma” of the farm manure that had been spread on the fields near the house. This lovely fragrance will fill the air for days to come as more farmers begin to ready their fields for spring planting. Ahhh – spring!

I’ve also noticed that the buds are beginning to swell on many of the spring blooming trees and shrubs and also on my fruit trees. Even some of the maples are beginning to don their spring coats of red as their flowers begin to open.

The honey bees were happily collecting nectar from the Mahonia flowers.

The honey bees were happily collecting nectar from the Mahonia flowers.

As I walked through the Viette gardens this afternoon, the air was full of the raucous calls of red-winged blackbirds and even the buzzing of bees as they visited the early flowers of Mahonia (Oregon Grape Holly) and Pieris. The peonies are beginning to pop up as are all the spring bulbs. Judging by what I see around here, I’m certain areas further east and south of us are really beginning to look like spring.

But don’t be fooled! Cold weather is by no means over. These warm, sunny days will become more frequent in the coming weeks and can trick us into thinking that it’s safe to set out tender annuals, beautiful hanging baskets, and even our tomato plants. Don’t do it – it’s way too early! Here in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, the potential for frost lasts until mid-May and even later in the areas closer to the mountains.

Now is the time to cut back certain evergreen plants like Liriope, Epimedium, and Helleborus.

Now, before new growth starts, is the best time to cut back certain evergreen plants like Liriope, Epimedium, and Helleborus.

We all get antsy and eager to get out in the garden on these beautiful sun-warmed days, though, and there are plenty of things that you CAN and should do in early spring.

Here are some ideas.

It’s going to be a great weekend to be in the garden so go outside, enjoy this beautiful weather, and get your gardens ready for the coming season.

Until next time –

Happy Gardening!

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Pine branches litter my yard.

Wow, have we been getting wind here in the Valley lately!

More downed branches

Downed branches litter the ground. A lot of clean up is in store this spring.

It’s rather calm today but in the past 2 weeks, we’ve had two major wind events. Our yard is strewn with downed twigs and branches, a small pine has been snapped in two, and a few junipers are split in half. The front that came through on the last day of February brought high winds that even ripped some of the flashing off the roof of our house. That storm brought a peak wind gust of 43.3 mph (as measured by our wind gauge) and that’s with the wind gauge sort of blocked by the house. Other areas nearby had even stronger gusts. Yikes!

A small pine is snapped in two.We’ve had heavy winds before; in fact there always seems to be a breeze blowing here at the nursery, but I don’t remember having such frequent strong winds like we’ve been having this winter. Last winter was our year for record snow, but this seems to be our winter for wind. All the snow has moved back up north, which makes me a little sad because I really like snow.

I can, however, do without this unrelenting wind and I’m sure our trees and shrubs can do without it, too.

Strong winds not only do physical damage by breaking branches and snapping trees in two, but winter winds can suck the moisture right out of the foliage of evergreen plants including both broad-leaf and needled evergreen trees and shrubs.

Winter burn on my Nandina

A combination of wind and dry soil has resulted in winter burn on my Nandina.

Winter burn, the browning of evergreen foliage due mostly to desiccation, is exacerbated by constant wind. Unlike deciduous trees, evergreens continue to function physiologically through the winter and thus have an ongoing need for water. They lose a large amount of water through their foliage and if they cannot replace this water because of frozen soil or drought conditions, winter injury will often occur. Wind augments this water loss by removing moisture from the foliage more quickly thus further increasing the plant’s demand for water.

What can we do?

You can protect evergreens from wind burn and winter kill by planting susceptible varieties, such as boxwood, nandina, English holly, Leyland cypress, and rhododendron (among many others) in a sheltered location away from prevailing winds.

Eric fashioned a burlap cover over this little holly to protect it from winter wind.

After he planted it in the late fall, Eric fashioned a burlap cover over this little holly to protect it from winter wind.

Exposed shrubs and small trees can be protected by wrapping them with burlap or some other suitable material.

In addition, spraying with an anti-desiccant like Bonide Wild Stop can slow water loss from the leaves and help prevent wind burn.

Applying a 3″ layer of mulch in the fall and watering during the winter when the ground is not frozen helps maintain moisture levels in the soil so the roots are able to replace the water that is lost through the leaves.

Snow cover also helps reduce winter burn by insulating the ground (and the plants) and conserving moisture in the soil. Unfortunately, we’ve been getting a lot of calls lately from our friends up north about damage to trees and shrubs due to heavy snow rather than heavy wind! That was our problem last year and dealing with snow damage was the subject of an article I wrote back in January 2010. Wind can also cause some of the same damage I discuss in the article so it might be worth a look in either case.

Until next time – Happy Gardening and don’t blow away in the wind!

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