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Archive for March, 2012

Persian Speedwell

Persian Speedwell (Veronica persica)

It’s very obvious that our spring has come early this year. The flowering trees at Viette’s are popping with amazing color and the spring bulbs are up and filling the gardens with more bright splashes of color.

Shepherds Purse surrounded by a sea of chickweed.

Shepherds Purse surrounded by a sea of chickweed.

But along with these very welcome spring flowers, come a host of not so welcome early spring bloomers which invade our carefully tended lawns and gardens; chickweed, henbit, mustards, wild violets, dandelions

These common garden weeds came early as well and are up and blooming profusely in my gardens and even in some of Andre’s gardens.

One of the earliest blooming spring garden weeds is chickweed (Stellaria). This annual weed is often categorized as a winter weed because it grows well in cooler conditions and it often forms bright green carpet of foliage as early as January or February – it even grows under the snow.

Chickweed flowers have 5 deeply cleft petals giving it the appearance of having 10 petals

Chickweed flowers have 5 deeply cleft petals giving it the appearance of having 10 petals

One of the keys to its success as a garden weed is that it can go from a seed to producing its own seed in as little as 30 days.
No wonder it’s so prolific!

If you want to look on the positive side, chickweed does have some redeeming characteristics. The seed is a great source of food for the birds and the name “chickweed” comes from the fact that the seed and tender young foliage was at one time used to feed domestic chickens. The foliage is rich in vitamin C and the plant can be used as a source of wild greens.
Hmmmm, I think I’ll stick with spinach!

Purple dead nettle

Purple dead nettle

Two other widespread winter annuals that are blooming right now are Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum) and its closely related and equally invasive cousin Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule). They are members of the mint family and can be seen blooming profusely all around us, turning whole fields into a sea of pink and purple. In fact purple dead nettle is currently creating quite the ground cover in our blueberry patch. I definitely need to work on that.

These annoying weeds often invade turfgrass and we get bombarded with questions in the spring about how to eradicate it. Of course, one of the best tips is to maintain a healthy, vigorous lawn through proper feeding, watering, and mowing. Mowing the grass high (no lower than 3″) will help to shade out most lawn weeds and a thick, well-fertilized lawn will usually outcompete the weeds.

Henbit is often confused with purple dead nettle and vice versa.

Henbit is often confused with purple dead nettle and vice versa.

Pre-emergence herbicides to control winter annuals like chickweed, henbit, and the others I mention in this post must be put down in late summer or fall before the seed germinates. It’s much to late for that now. Once they are growing, hand weeding or the use of post-emergence herbicides are the best way to control them, especially if you catch them before they get a chance to set seed.

Interestingly, henbit and purple dead nettle are kin to the beautiful (and better behaved) cultivated form of Lamium that many of us plant in our gardens; Lamium maculatum. The variegated cultivars, ‘Beacon Silver’, ‘Purple Dragon’, ‘Shell Pink’, and others are often used as attractive ground covers for the sun and shade.

More early spring “wildflowers” that we consider weeds …

Shepherds Purse with its unusual seed pods

Shepherds Purse with its unusual
seed pods

Shepherds Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) is a very common winter annual that produces copious amounts of seed in their little seed pods that resemble the purses once carried by shepherds, hence the name. Each plant is capable of producing 40,000 seeds which can remain viable for up to 30 years – yikes! But – the seed is peppery and can be ground into a  mustard-like seasoning. Got hotdogs?

Two delightfully cute little wildflowers I came across in the grass at the nursery are Persian Speedwell (Veronica persica; seen in the banner above) and Field Pansy (Viola kitaibeliana).

These tiny field pansies are so cute!

These tiny field pansy flowers are so cute!

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I know these weeds can be annoying to have in your lawn and many people strive to eradicate them but their little flowers are just so adorable – how could you?

I’m just sayin’ …

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Peach totally engulfed by brown rot

Believe it or not, I followed my own advice this weekend!

All Seasons Oil will smother the overwintering egg cases of tent caterpillars.

All Seasons Oil will smother the egg cases of tent caterpillars.

I sprayed my fruit trees with Bonide All Seasons Oil. I have mentioned in many of our February and March newsletters and advised countless garden center customers that a late winter/early spring application of horticultural oil is one of the most important sprays to protect your fruit trees. It’s important because it smothers insect eggs (like tent caterpillar eggs) and overwintering insect pests (like codling moth larvae, mealybugs, and scale) by forming a coating of oil over them. It can also smother fungal spores and reduce the incidence of certain fungal diseases like rust or powdery mildew.

But have I ever sprayed it in our little orchard? No – at least not until this year! If it’s so important, why didn’t I do it? Well, my excuse was that whenever I had “time” to spray, the wind was blowing too hard or it was raining or I didn’t have the spray on hand or I missed the timing or …

Mealybugs cause damage to foliage and fruit.

Mealybugs cause damage to foliage and fruit.

In all honesty, it was more because it was so much trouble to mix up enough spray to cover all the fruit trees. Our little hand sprayer had to be refilled several times by the time we were finished. A few years ago, we got a backpack sprayer that held more and I used it for a while but even that had to be refilled quite a few times to cover all the trees and I never did manage to get that initial spray of horticultural oil on the them.

This year for an early birthday present, we bought ourselves a 16 gallon sprayer that can sit in the trailer we pull behind our mower. Best of all, it has a 12 volt pump that is powered right from the mower battery! Wow! I can tell that this new sprayer is going to revolutionize our fruit growing just like Uncle Bill’s old Troy-Bilt tiller revolutionized my vegetable gardening.

Brown rot ruins my peach crop.

Brown rot ruins most of my peaches before they have a chance to ripen.

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The sprayer is made to attach to an ATV but Eric built a frame out of treated lumber that holds the tank and keeps it from moving around in the cart. Perfect!

We tried it out with the All Seasons Oil this weekend and it worked like a charm! We made up 9 gallons of spray which was the perfect amount to cover all the trees. So quick and easy!

I’m determined to keep up with the spraying this year so maybe we’ll get some fruit that we won’t have to share with the bugs and diseases!

Brown rot on a plum

Brown rot on a plum

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At the top of my list is battling brown rot on our peaches. Every year, because I haven’t sprayed a fungicide, we watch as our peaches (and plums) become swallowed up by this dreaded disease. Brown rot is a common fungal disease that affects stone fruits like peaches, plums, apricots, and cherries. It can be devastating to a fruit crop and can destroy most or all of the fruit on a tree in a relatively short period of time.

Mummified peaches hang from one of my peach trees.

Mummified peaches hang from one of my peach trees.

Sanitation around the trees is one of the most important ways to try to reduce the incidence of this disease (and many other fungal diseases that affect fruit trees) because the fungal spores overwinter in plant debris and on mummified fruits that hang on the tree and fall on the ground. Even with careful cleaning and raking, treatment with fungicides is often necessary to help control brown rot especially if the disease has infected your trees in the past. To be most effective, it is very important to begin spraying for brown rot before infection occurs.

More information about brown rot

Black rot beginning to infect grapes.

Black rot beginning to infect a
bunch of grapes.

So … this weekend we’re going to fire up the sprayer again (weather permitting) to spray Bonide Liquid Copper fungicide on the trees and our grapes.

Bonide copper fungicide is a broad range fungicide approved for organic gardening that will help control a host of diseases in our orchard including brown rot on the peaches and plums, black rot on our grapes, and cedar-apple rust which affects our apples every year even though we have planted resistant varieties.

Cedar-apple rust infects some young apples

Cedar-apple rust infects some of
our young apples

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I really think we’ll be able to keep up with the insects and disease this year! We’re even thinking of getting a two more peach trees and maybe another plum!

Now I’m just hoping that we don’t get a late frost that wipes out the blossoms!

Here’s to a “fruitful” year!

Until Next time – Happy Gardening
and Happy Spring!

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Plum branches forced indoors

It snowed again yesterday morning! The snow came down fast and furious and by 10am, five fluffy inches covered the ground. It was beautiful – again, and it no longer looked much like spring outside! Last night the temperature plunged to 19oF but today the temps are forecast to rebound to 55o and by Thursday, it’s supposed to get up to a balmy 70o! What a roller coaster ride we’ve had this winter! It makes me wonder what spring will be like!

Vase of blooming branchesThe daffodils beside the house that were in full bloom over the weekend look pitiful now; beaten down by the snow and now frozen last night by the deep cold. Oh well! So much for our spring blooms outside – for now anyway. I’m glad Eric cut some on Friday to take to our daughter in DC this weekend.

We do have a bit of spring indoors though. As I mentioned in my previous post, we pruned the fruit trees right before our last snow storm and Eric decided we should bring several of the branches of our Japanese plum indoors to force since the buds had already begun to swell.

We didn’t do anything to them except to make fresh cuts as soon as we got them inside and stick them in a tall vase of lukewarm water. There they sat on the fireplace mantle for about a week without doing much of anything. But gradually the buds began to swell more and more and after about 9 days the flowers began to pop open. Snow white plum bloomsIt wasn’t long before we had a vase full of beautiful white plum flowers accentuated by the dark brown branches.

Harvesting branches for forcing is easy and it creates some cheerful early spring color indoors. The best time to cut branches for forcing is when the buds begin to swell in spring. The warmer the zone, the earlier you can start harvesting branches.

The closer to their normal blooming time that you harvest the branches, the faster they will come into bloom in the house.

Harvesting Branches

Happily, one of the best times to harvest branches for forcing coincides with the best time to thin your spring flowering trees and shrubs!

Here are some tips on cutting:

  • Cut branches that are 2-3 feet long and that are heavily laden with flower buds.
  • Branches toward the top of the plant tend to have more flower buds than those lower down.
  • Flowering buds can usually be distinguished from vegetative buds because they tend to be larger and fatter.
  • When cutting the branches, be sure to prune to a bud or side shoot and make your cut about a 1/4″ above the bud.
Flowering quince are great for forcing

Flowering quince are great for forcing

Two Methods for forcing

Cold Method:

  • Place the cut ends into a bucket of snow or icy cold water. Keep them in a cool, dark place for 2 days.
  • After 2 days, re-cut the ends of the branches and arrange them in tall vases filled with cool water.
  • Set the vases in the sun next to a window and remember to keep the water levels up.

Warm Method:

  • Forsythia is one of the easiest spring blooming shrubs to force

    Forsythia is one of the easiest spring blooming shrubs to force.

    Bring the cut branches inside and place them in tall containers filled with warm water (90-110ºF).

  • Place a tent of plastic over the containers and set them in a dimly lit, warm room for 24 hours. The warmth and humidity will encourage the scales covering the flower buds to expand and activate dormant buds.
  • Re-cut the ends of the branches at an angle and arrange them in vases filled with fresh water.
  • Remember to check the water level in your vases often and top them off if needed.

We didn’t really follow either of these methods when we brought our branches in, but they opened up nicely just the same. I think they were probably far enough along that it didn’t matter!

Visit our website for a list of the Viette’s favorite spring blooming trees and shrubs to force.

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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