SOME INTERESTING HOLIDAY GIFT PLANTS

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Most of us are quite familiar with common garden geraniums (Pelargonium spp.) with their brightly colored blooms and leaves.  We usually grow these outside for summer bedding color.  Other (and not as well-known) geraniums are grown for their scented leaves.  They can be grown outside for bedding or put into mixed containers for scent, but they make excellent house plants. 

Scented-leaved geraniums have been grown since the 1600s and several are heirloom plants.  At one time more than 100 varieties were grown; each one with a singular, distinctive fragrance.   Several of the kinds still available are true species, some are selections out of species and a few are hybrids.   Fragrances include rose, lemon, mint, apricot, pineapple and coconut.  To release the scent of the leaves, simply gently brush against them or rub lightly with your finger.   It is pleasant to have fragrant plants in the house in winter, even without flowers.   How many of us have tried to bring plants with fragrant flowers into bloom in the winter?  It is not an easy task, especially with our short days, minimum window space.  But scented geraniums carry their scent year-round and are not difficult to grow. 

‘Skeleton Rose’, dating to about 1700, is one of the oldest scented geraniums around.  It has a delicious rose-lemon scent and beautiful, deeply-divided leaves.   Flowers appear in late spring and are lavender. 

‘True Rose’ has beautiful divided leaves of quite different shape from ‘Skeleton Rose’, and makes a slightly larger plant.  It has been grown since 1787 and the oil from its leaves is used in perfumes.   This variety has pink blooms in late spring. 

‘Peppermint’ has soft, velvety leaves with a fresh, minty smell.  This variety seems to like more water and cooler temperatures than other geraniums.  The plant can become larger than other kinds also.  ‘Peppermint’ has been grown since 1806.

‘Lemon Fizz’ is a twentieth century plant and is probably the most popular scented geranium today.  Its leaves release a wonderful, sweet, lemon fragrance that is comparable to true lemon.  

In general, I have found that scented-leaf geraniums prefer a more neutral pH (6.0) than most other geraniums, and like a bit more moisture.  It is best to let the plants get sub-moist, but not completely dry; then water them thoroughly so the water runs out the bottom of the pot.  A sign that your scented-leaf geraniums are being kept too dry is the presence of drying, browning leaves at the base of the plants.  A sign that they are being kept too wet is transparent, yellowing leaves.  A fast-draining, organic succulent potting mix is excellent.  These plants are easy to grow organically.  Aphids and spider mites are seldom troublesome, but if they appear, can be controlled easily with certified organic pest controls or by spraying the leaves with a jet of water, washing off the bugs. 

Christmas cacti (Zygocactus spp.) have no fragrance, but what a show they give in the darkest days of the year!  Their flowers are silky and translucent, and bloom in shades of pink, red, white and lavender.   Unlike most cacti, Christmas cacti have no spines, but possess unusual, flat leaves.  In their native habitat, they live in trees.  They like a moist situation and prefer to become sub-moist before they are watered.  They do not like to dry out completely either, and will die if they get too dry.   Likewise, they will die if they are watered too much, so try to keep the plants moist.  A rich organic potting soil works well, and plants prefer to become bit pot bound, when they bloom the best.  In fall, winter and early spring Christmas cacti can be given a spot in a sunny window, but in summer they need part shade or some protection from full sun. 

Christmas cacti are daylight sensitive.  Flower buds are set in fall, when days are shorter and nights longer (12 to 14 hour nights).  Temperatures of 50 degrees to 55 degrees F. will encourage bloom.  The plants must have complete darkness at night to set flower buds, so when you are trying to get them to bloom, make sure there are no lights on in the room or outside the window at night. 

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DECEMBER GARDENING CALENDAR

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GENERAL

Check stored vegetables and fruit often; inventory seeds and test germination and order seed.  Keep perennials and bulbs growing next to the house covered with snow to insulate them from extreme cold.  Make sure all young fruit trees have their trunks wrapped and place wire netting around trunks to prevent damage from rabbits and voles.   Mulch hardy tree seedlings and bulb beds with pine or fir branches. 

Save wood ashes all winter long to spread on beds in spring on plants that enjoy alkaline soil conditions.  

VEGETABLES

Admit air to cold frames and cover frames at night.  Uncover on mild days, but do not let sun shine on frozen plants.  Pick off any decaying leaves.  Cover every night with mats, blankets, straw, ferns or insulating row fabric.  Late cabbages, kale and greens should be covered in hoops covered with row cover fabric. 

Check stored vegetables often: potatoes, onions, carrots, and cabbage, etc.  Also check stored flowers and fruit: dahlias, glads, cannas, apples, pears.  Cabbage likes high humidity (80-90%) and a storage temperature of about 35 degrees.  Potatoes, glads and dahlias prefer about 45 degrees and high humidity.  Onions and garlic need air, with about 60% humidity, so hang and keep them dry, storing at about 35 degrees.  Apples need about 30-35 degrees with high humidity. 

Force asparagus in hot beds. 

FLOWERS

If there is no snow, cover perennials and roses with evergreen branches to protect them.  Spread thin, flaky manure over pansies, carnations, pinks, tulips, penstemons, phloxes.  Spread composted manure over the vegetable garden.  Over the winter the manure will break down and feed the soil and any pathogens will be gone by the time you begin planting vegetables in mid-March.

For house plants: start amaryllis, watering lightly at first with warm water.  Keep in a warm place and gradually increase watering as the stems elongate, but do not keep the plants wet.  Moist soil is best.  Watch for spider mites on houseplants, mini roses and amaryllis.  If you see them, wash the whole plant first with plain water; then spray with insecticidal soap every 3 days for 2 weeks.  Do not overwater houseplants this time of year, especially geraniums, which are nearly or totally dormant now. 

Late in the month, after the 20th, start seeds of begonias, geraniums, primroses, Dahlias, pansies, and lisianthus. 

For potted auricula primroses and other plants, keep admitting air into the frames and keep frame covers handy if the weather gets very cold.  Cover outdoor primulas with light straw. 

FRUIT

Check stored fruit often for spoilage and discard any rotting fruits. 

TREES, SHRUBS AND ROSES

Take cuttings of lavender, pyracantha, sumac, spirea, mock orange, wiegela, wisteria, and robinia.  Place them in a mixture of ½ peat and ½ perlite.  Insert small stakes into the pot to act as supports.   Place plastic bags over the tops of the pots and sink them into sand or soil inside a cold frame situated in shade.  The cuttings should root over the winter.

 

 

DEER RESISTANT PLANTS FOR THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS AND NORTHERN PLAINS

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Mule and Whitetail deer are abundant these days over much of our region.  As many of us have experienced, deer can do a lot of damage to a garden in a short time.   In spring and summer they eat flowers and foliage.   In winter deer browse on the young shoots and buds of shrubs and trees.   Deer prefer some plants over others, but if they are starving, they will eat almost any plant.  Some of their first-choice favorites are tulips, roses, pansies, arborvitae and young fruit trees.

An eight foot (or higher) fence is the best protection for garden plants, but fences are not always practical or attractive in certain locations.  Some popular deer repellents are: human hair, dog hair, scented soaps, blood meal, egg yolks mixed with water, thiram fungicide, and sprinklers activated by movement.  Deer repellents are not always effective and usually have to be reapplied after rain.   Often, deer seem to get accustomed to a repellent’s odor and will eventually return to browsing the garden.  Strongly scented soaps worked for quite a while for me, but eventually the deer returned and I ended up with heaps of water-soaked bars of soap decorating my planting borders. 

Vegetable and fruit gardens probably need to be fenced in our area, but if you are growing ornamental plants only, why not choose deer-resistant species adapted to our climate?   That way you can have a beautiful garden deer will (for the most part) leave alone.  The term “deer-resistant” means that the species listed here are less preferred as food than other commonly grown garden plants.  These plants are often fragrant, or poisonous, or irritate a deer’s stomach, so are not as often eaten.  I have indicated the common name, species name and USDA coldest climate zone: 

ANNUALS:

Ageratum                                                    

Cleome hasslerana

Dusty miller (Senecio cinerara)                    

Fibrous begonias

Heliotrope (Heliotropum spp.)                     

Marigolds (Tagetes spp.)                    

Poppies (Papaver spp.)                                 

Scented geraniums (Pelargonium spp.)

Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritma)                        

Zinnias

 

BULBS:

Alliums zone 3                                                     

Daffodils (Narcissus spp.) zone 4

Fritillaria imperialis zone 4                                    

Lily of the Valley (Convallaria spp.) zone 3

Scillas zone 4                                                        

Snowdrops (Galanthus spp.) zone 3

 

PERENNIALS:

Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)  zone 4                  

Astilbe spp. zone 4

Bee balm (Monarda spp.) zone 4                   

Bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) zone 3

Bugleweed (Ajuga spp.) zone 4                      

Butterfly bush (Buddleia spp.) zone 5

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) zone 3              

Columbine (Aquilegea spp.) zone 3

Coneflower (Echinacea spp.) zone 3                       

Coreopsis spp. zone 3

Delphinium elatum zone 3                                     

False Indigo (Baptisia australis) zone 3

Hardy geraniums (Geranium spp. ) zone 4              

Hellebores (Helleborus spp.) zone 4

Liatris spicata zone 3                                            

Lamium maculatum zone 2

Lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina) zone   4                

Penstemon barbatus zone 4

Penstemon eatonii zone 4                             

Penstemon pinifolius zone 4

Perennial poppies (Papaver orientale) zone 3

Rudbeckia fulgida zone 4

Red valerian (Centranthus ruber) zone 3                 

Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) zone 4

Speedwell (Veronica spicata) zone 3                        

Vinca minor zone 3

Yarrow (Achillea spp.) zone 3                                     

Yucca glauca zone 3

 

SHRUBS AND TREES:

Barberry (Berberis koreana) zone 3                        

Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) zone 4

Caragana spp. zone 2                                               

Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens) zone 3

Forsythia spp. zone 4                                            

Juniper (Juniperus spp.) zones 3, 4

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) zone 4-5             

Lilac (Syringa spp.) zone 3

Mockorange (Philadelphus lewisii) zone 3               

Mugho pine (Pinus mugho) zone 2

Red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) zone 2             

Rosa foetida and R. foetida bicolor  zone 3

Rosa pimpinellifolia and hybrids zone 3                  

Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) zone 2

 

NOVEMBER GARDENING CALENDAR

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Cold winter weather does limit what we can do in the garden in November in our northern Rocky Mountain climate (USDA zones 3, 4 and 5).  If ground is still unfrozen, prepare beds for next spring’s early crops.   If you still have unfrozen manure or compost it can be spread over vegetable and flower beds and trenched into furrows to receive frost (this will break down over winter and lighten and feed the soil).  I have spread manure and compost right over the snow on planting beds and it worked just fine. 

Check over which varieties of flowers and vegetables you liked or disliked this year.  Make a note of which ones did well.  Keep your records up to date if you can.  Check stores of fruits and vegetables and discard spoiling ones.  Clean all your tools, oil wooden handles and replace cracked ones.  Drain gas and oil out of lawnmower for winter. 

Finish planting garlic, shallots, and Egyptian walking onions before the ground freezes solid.

Have row covers ready for remaining crops in the field; also have covers ready for cold frames.    Carefully store row covers before winter; make sure the fabric is dry before folding and storing. 

Early in the month, if not done earlier, harvest and store cabbages.  To store them, turn them upside down to dry, take off extra leaves and place them in a trench of sand and cover with a wet-proof cover open at both ends to keep them dry.  Close the ends of your cover with straw when frosty.  Also, to store beets, carrots, parsnips, turnips, salsify for winter: dry and cut the leafy tops off.  Dig a pit in a dry place if possible.  Put down 2 inches of sand, then the vegetable roots, then more sand, alternating.  Cover them with a final layer of sand and straw to protect them.

Admit air to cold frames and the greenhouse on sunny days; pick off any mildewed or moldy leaves.  Apply manure or compost to outdoor asparagus and rhubarb beds to 4 inches deep.  Weed onions, leeks, spinach, mache, cresses.  In frames, when it is cold, cover lettuces, cabbages, etc.  Harvest late and frame–grown cabbage, spinach, carrots, peas, cauliflower, lettuce, broccoli, Brussels sprouts.

If the ground has not frozen solid, finish dividing and replanting perennials before winter freeze-up.  Transplant seedling perennials and flowers into flats; keep them in a cold frame or cold greenhouse.  Mulch primroses, bleeding hearts, and any marginally hardy perennials with pine or fir branches.  Cut back established pansies and collect violet seed.   

Finish planting bulbs out and plant bulbs to be forced in pots.  Weed bulb beds and spread bone meal if not done last month.  Put poultry netting over the top of the soil of newly planted tulips, crocus and hyacinths to discourage squirrels and cats who like to dig and scratch into fresh soil.  Plant these same bulbs in Vole King wire baskets to protect from voles. 

In the greenhouse plants will be at rest.  Keep their foliage dry and do not overwater!  Succulent plants such as cacti may need little or no water all winter.  If mold appears, dust with sulfur.  Moving air inside a greenhouse discourages mold. 

If you plan to keep any plants in pots over the winter, plunge them up to their pot rims into a holding bed.  The reason for doing this is that plant roots suffer greatly from the wide temperature swings of air during winter.  Good substances for this are: fine gravel, bark, sand, sawdust or soil.  If you have any bulbs, perennials, roses or shrubs growing in pots outside, be sure to sink them up to the rims to protect them from cold over winter. 

Cover cold frames if it is frosty and cold.  If you vent the frame, make sure no direct sun hits plants while they are frozen. 

Weed fruiting shrubs, add manure to raspberry beds.  Finish storing apples, pears, etc.  Clean all leaves and mummy fruit around trees to prevent disease and discourage insects.  Sow seeds of fruit trees and rootstocks.    

Finish planting deciduous shrubs and trees.  Mound soil around the base of tender hybrid tea roses to a depth of about 10 to 12 inches.  Evergreen boughs may be placed over the soil mound.  The soil and boughs will protect the lower portion of tender rose plants over winter. 

 

GROWING FRESH VEGETABLE SPROUTS

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You can grow fresh, nutritious, organic vegetables right in your kitchen any time of year!   Nutritious sprouts can be grown from seeds in 3-6 days.  Germination releases a variety of nutrients, enzymes and proteins that makes sprouts easier to digest than dry seeds.  Sprouting increases the amount and bio-availability of proteins, vitamins and minerals.  Sprouts are high in protein, low in fat, high in fiber and loaded with vitamins. 

Sprouts are more concentrated in food value than fully grown vegetables, but most people add them to foods rather than eating them alone.  You can use fresh sprouts to finish a salad, or put them in a sandwich.  Sandwich fillings can be made by grinding sprouts to a paste.   Sprouts also make healthy, flavorful additions to stir fry dishes, soups and casseroles.  Some more popular uses are as additions to dips or fresh juices.  Sprouts can be added to pancake batter or scrambled eggs, too. 

To sprout seeds at home, purchase organically grown seeds labeled for sprouting.  This will be the cleanest, safest seeds you can use.  Start with small amounts of seed.  Try a tablespoon or two, or up to ½ cup if you are sprouting larger seeds, such as mung beans or peas.  Room temperature (65 to 75 degrees) is perfect for sprouting.  The rinse water should be about the same temperature.  Place the seeds in a wide mouth quart glass jar and then wash (rinse) them thoroughly with clean water.  A special sprouting jar lid will work well to drain the seeds, or cheesecloth fastened with a rubber band can be used.  Fill the jar with 2 cups of water and soak the rinsed seeds for 8 hours, or overnight.  In the morning, drain the seeds and rinse them again, twice.  Place the jar upside down, at an angle inside a clean bowl to finish draining for a few minutes.  Place the jar right side up again and place it out of direct sunlight, but not in total darkness (some seeds need light to germinate).   Rinse the seeds at least twice a day for the sweetest, freshest taste.  

When to harvest varies with the kind of sprout grown.  Most are ready in 3 to 4 days, but some take longer (mung beans take about 6 days).  Experiment with tasting the sprouts to see what size you prefer.  Usually they taste sweetest when tails emerge.  After harvest, store sprouts in covered containers in the refrigerator.  Fresh sprouts will last about a week in the refrigerator. 

You may have heard of problems with commercially grown sprouts that made people sick.  As long as you use clean jars and lids and rinse the sprouts at least twice a day there is little chance of a problem.  Remember to wash your hands after handling raw meat, and before touching fresh sprouts or any raw, uncooked food, as you prepare a meal. 

Some favorite sprouting seeds are: alfalfa, which is a cancer preventative loaded with vitamins A, B, C, D, E, F and K; mung beans, loaded with protein, fiber and vitamins A, B, C, and E, plus trace elements; peas, with vitamins A, B, C and E, and trace elements.  Broccoli, cabbage, mustard, arugula and radishes are all excellent and nutritious.  Several blends of sprouting seeds are now available.  They are packed with vitamins, minerals, proteins and fiber.

PLANTING SPRING FLOWERING BULBS AND NATIVE WILDFLOWERS

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PLANTING SPRING-FLOWERING BULBS

 Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, grape hyacinths, glacier lilies and crocus are adapted to most Montana climate zones (USDA zones 4 and 5).  Tulips are very hardy and adapted to the cold eastern Montana climate (USDA zone 3).  All should be planted in fall, usually in October or November.  You can plant spring-flowering bulbs until the ground freezes, but they will bloom better if you get them in before November 15, when soil is in the 40 degrees to 55 degrees range.    

SOIL PREPARATION

Bulbs prefer a well-drained location in the garden.  Tulips, hyacinths, crocus and grape hyacinths need full sun.  Daffodils and glacier lilies (trout lilies) like part shade, though daffodils will grow in full sun in Montana.  Daffodils are deer and rodent proof, but the others, especially tulips, need to be in a place protected from deer and voles.  The new wire baskets from Vole King are flexible and easy to place around your bulbs before you plant.  When a vole chews into the wire, its nose is poked by the wires curling back after being cut. 

Dig your bulb bed to 10 or 12 inches deep.  Sandy loam is the best soil for bulbs, but you can improve your soil by adding gypsum to break down clay, or peat moss, compost and bone meal.  Bone meal degrades into the soil while it adds phosphorous, which will promote good blooms.  Mix bone meal well with the soil in the bottom of the bed for best results.  PH should be about neutral for these bulbs, but hyacinths and tulips will tolerate more alkaline soils.  Plant tulips and daffodils at 5 per square foot, hyacinths and glacier lilies at 3 to 4 per square foot, and grape hyacinths and crocus at 8 to 10 per square foot.  After planting, backfill the soil but do not pack it down over the bulbs.  Water well. 

PLANTING DEPTH

The general recommended planting depth for bulbs is: 3 times the height of the bulb deep, pointed end up.  Tulips, hyacinths and daffodils should be planted about 6 to 8 inches deep; Grape hyacinths, crocus and glacier lilies about 4 inches deep. 

HEIGHT WHEN IN BLOOM

Our tulips grow to about 20 inches tall and bloom midseason.  Our daffodils bloom early and grow and bloom to about 16 inches.  Our hyacinths and glacier lilies bloom at about 10 inches, and bloom early.  Our grape hyacinths bloom about 6 inches high and bloom midseason.   Crocus bloom at 3 inches high and bloom very early. 

AFTERCARE

Leave foliage on your bulbs and let it die down naturally.  This feeds the bulbs so they will flower well the next year.  Most bulbs, especially tulips, like dry conditions after foliage dies down.  In some climates, or if summer bedding is planned for that location, people dig and store their tulip bulbs and replant them in fall.  Here in Montana, you can leave the bulbs in the ground if you give no additional summer water.  Do not water them until October to give the roots a boost before winter.  Spread bone meal over your bulb beds every October.  Glacier lilies like to grow in moist soil, but can tolerate dry soil conditions for a short period during late summer. 

 

PLANTING A WILDFLOWER MEADOW

 

A wildflower garden or meadow will attract and feed native pollinators, beneficial insects and birds.  Maintenance and watering is generally less than most gardens of ornamental plants, which require frequent watering and weeding. 

 

NORTHERN REGION WILDFLOWER MIX is a blend of annual and perennial flowers adapted to the Montana climate.  Flower height varies from about 8 inches to 5 feet.  This taller mix contains both native and introduced species.  Plant one pound for 2,000 square feet.

 

MONTANA NATIVE WILDFLOWER MIX contains only seed from plants native to Montana.  This shorter mix is a combination of annuals and perennials.  Flower height varies from 8 inches to 24 inches.   Plant one pound for 2,000 square feet.

 

The best time to plant wildflower mixes is in fall.  You can sow the seed mid-October into November and even into December.  If the soil is prepared the seeds can be spread right over the snow, but birds or rodents may eat some of the seeds.  Winter temperatures will stratify the seeds and help them to germinate at a higher rate than if planted in the spring.  

 

Prepare your spot in full sun, if possible, or part shade.  Remove weeds and grasses, cultivate lightly then rake the area smooth.  Mix the seed with coarse sand to spread it evenly, in a ratio of 3 parts sand to 1 part seed.  After you broadcast the seed, press it into the soil in the same way you would if you were planting grass seed.  If it does not rain or snow within a week, water the area well.  It is not necessary to add fertilizers, as wildflowers generally prefer a soil of low fertility.  

 

Every summer, you can gather seed from your wildflowers and sow it right in the same bed to perpetuate the show of flowers, or you can start a new bed. 

 

 

 

OCTOBER GARDENING CALENDAR

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Fall started all of a sudden this year!  Now is the time to bring in any remaining vegetables to ripen, or cover them with a row cover designed to take frosts into the mid-20s.  Plant bulbs, wildflower mixes and hardy annuals.  Harvest apples and pears, and sow seeds of hardy trees and shrubs. 

With row covers and cold frames as protection crops can still be harvested into November.  Ventilate plants in frames and give air and water freely.  When it is cold, cover with mats or straw and do not let the sun shine on an open frame full of frozen plants.   

Finish digging potatoes early in the month in case we get a heavy frost. 

Harvest Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, spinach and herbs.  Harvest and store cabbages late in the month: turn them upside down to dry, take off extra leaves and place them in a bin of sand in a cellar.  Or, place the cabbages in a trench filled with sand, cover them with more sand and place a water-proof cover (open at both ends) over the trench to keep them dry.  Close the ends with straw when frosty.  Thin spinach and lettuce planted last month.  If you have protected your pepper plants from frosts and heavy frost is on the way, pull up the plants and hang them upside down to ripen fruits.  Harvest ripe squash and pumpkins, leaving a one to one and a half inch stem.  Dig, divide and transplant garlic and shallots.  Hang onions to dry in an airy cool place.  Cut asparagus and perennial herbs back before winter.  Carrots may be left in the ground and covered with two feet of straw, leaves or peat moss to pick as needed most of the winter.   To prevent voles, cover the carrot bed with hardware cloth before you place the straw. 

Plant bulbs this month, finishing by November 15; give a top dressing of bone meal to the previous season’s bulbs beds.  Divide and replant peonies and plant wildflower seed. 

Divide perennials late in the month, after cool weather begins, into November.  Sow seeds of late-blooming perennials (to sprout in spring).  Trim lavenders and other shrubby herbs to a few inches and give them a light dressing of manure. 

If not already done, dig tuberoses, dahlias, amaryllis, gladioli and other tender bulbs.  Spread them out to dry in a warm room, clean off hair roots and decaying foliage and pack them up in dry boxes of sawdust.  Keep your bulbs in a cool, dark, dry, frost-free location.  Weed established bulb beds and spread bone meal as a top dressing. 

Harvest apples and pears for storage when the trees are dry.   To test for ripeness gently twist fruit gently one way or the other.  If it comes off easily it is ready to pick.  Place harvested fruit in heaps in a shed to dry further for 10 to 14 days.  Examine each fruit for bruises, which will cause rot in storage.  Wipe each one dry, wrap in paper and store in barrels; or, wipe dry and place in dry sand in the barrels.  Keep in a cool, dry cellar away from frost. 

Transplant trees, shrubs and fruit trees late in month. 

Watch for leafhoppers on roses and spray before severe frosts occur to get last generation before winter.  To protect tender roses over the winter, mound each plant with soil about 6 inches deep and place a layer of evergreen branches over that.  In the spring the soil can be removed gradually, about an inch at a time.  In the spring, uncover the plants gradually.  Use a gentle jet of water from a hose once a week or so, finishing about May 20.   If a heavy late frost threatens, place the evergreens over the crown of the plant again, removing them when weather warms. 

 

 

FALL APPLE AND PEAR TREE CARE

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FALL APPLE AND PEAR FRUIT TREE CARE

By James Sagmiller

HARVESTING

Now is the time to gather ripe apples and pears.  Be sure to pick while weather is dry.  As you harvest, discard/destroy any diseased fruit or “mummies” into a hot, active compost pile or burn them.  Feed fallen fruits to cattle, horses, or pigs.  Pick unripe winter pears before hard frosts so they will ripen in storage and keep better.  (Frosted pears will rot in storage).  To gather ripe fruit, gently twist one way or another; a ripe apple or pear comes off easily. 

STORING

Before storing, dry the fruit in heaps in a shed for 10 to 14 days.   Wipe each apple or pear dry with a clean, dry cloth and wrap each one in brown paper and store in wooden barrels or bins.   As you wipe, inspect the fruit for bruises or decay and discard or use those immediately rather than storing them.  Another good method is to store the fruit in completely dry sand, sawdust or straw in barrels or bins.  The storage cellar needs to be cool and dry, with protection from frost.  I like to store apples away from potatoes because apples seem to take on a potato flavor after a few months of storage, if they are stored next to each other. 

PROTECTION

September is a good time to paint the trunks of your fruit trees to prevent sunscald.  Sunscald happens in spring when the sun hits frozen sap in the tree trunk.  Painting the trunk white with interior latex paint will reflect the sun off the trunk and help prevent sunscald.  Do this every year.  Another important thing to do in fall is to rake up all fallen leaves, so as to prevent scab disease.   

A serious disease of apples and pears is fireblight.   The symptoms are blackened terminal shoots and leaves, with the ends of the branches often being bent over.  The leaves and twigs will have a scorched look, as if they had been burned.  If you encounter this, it is necessary to carefully prune the branches affected, cutting 6 inches to a foot below the scorched, blackened leaves and stem.  Wipe your lopper/pruner before using and after each cut, with 70% isopropyl alcohol or a 10% bleach solution (1 part bleach in 9 parts water).  Also, prune for fireblight in dry weather.  Wet weather means wet branch wood and a greater chance of spreading the disease.   Seal the cuts with pruning paint. 

Voles and gophers are serious cool season threats to fruit trees, especially young trees.  A tree guard will help protect tender bark from being stripped by voles.  Tree wrap alone will not prevent voles from chewing into bark.  Plastic tree guards are good to use for young trees.  Put them on in September, but be sure to remove them about the time the trees leaf out.   They do not expand well as the tree grows, can become embedded in the growing bark and can cause moisture buildup underneath.  A better tree guard is one of ¼” -1/2” hardware cloth, made at least 4” in diameter and 18”-24” high.  Air can pass through, and the vole/rabbit guard can be left in place until the trunk grows larger. 

FERTILIZING

Fall is an excellent time of year to apply organic fertilizers on established trees as soil is still warm.  Organics activate best when soil temperatures are between 50 degrees and 80 degrees.  Bone meal, alfalfa meal and kelp meal are good dry amendments.  A spray of Neem oil with hydrolyzed fish when leaves are 50-60% fallen will feed the tree, and help prevent fungi and bacterial infestations.   Spray over all branches and the trunk.  Neem is a light, OMRI listed horticultural oil.   

TRANSPLANTING AND PROTECTION

Fall is also a very good time to transplant fruit trees, especially the second half of October into November.  Our weather is very unpredictable and some years we get a deep-freeze winter storm in early November, so really watch the weather to get trees in before winter.  Test your soil pH.  Most fruiting trees and shrubs prefer a soil pH of 6.5-6.9.  Cottonseed Meal is a good organic amendment that will help acidify alkaline soil.  Apples, pears, cherries and plums prefer sandy loam soil.  Gypsum with compost will lighten and improve clay soils.   Dig large holes for your trees and amend poor soils.  Fruit trees need good drainage so avoid planting in swampy, heavy soils.   Do not apply extra fertilizer to newly planted trees, especially chemical fertilizers.    

A new product that protects the tree’s root ball from voles and gophers are Vole King planting baskets made from wire mesh.  If a vole or gopher chews into the mesh, metal wires stick out and poke the vole in the face causing it to stop chewing.   Several sizes of vole baskets are available, from a large fruit tree size down to one made for small bulbs and perennials.  The edges of the baskets roll easily.  A circle of metal hardware cloth will prevent voles from climbing over the edges of the wire basket and digging down into the root ball of the plant. 

In our northern climate, standard apple and pear trees are often best.  Dwarfing rootstocks are not as winter hardy as trees grown on their own roots or grafted onto a hardy standard rootstock.  ‘Antanovka’ is a very winter hardy apple rootstock that produces a standard tree of 15 feet or so in our climate.  The same tree can be pruned to be 10 to 12 feet tall.  Purchased dwarf or semi-dwarf trees can be planted deeper so they will root from above the graft.  This produces a hardy, long-lived tree.  Keep in mind trees grow much larger in areas with longer growing seasons, such as in England, Oregon or California.  Plant standard apple trees in Montana about 18-20 feet apart and standard pears about 20 feet apart.  Good hardy rootstocks for pears are Pyrus communis and Pyrus ussuriensis

SOME NATIVE PERENNIALS TO PLANT IN FALL

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SOME NATIVE PERENNIALS TO PLANT IN FALL

Fall is a very good time to plant potted perennial plants.  Garden soil is still warm, enabling roots to grow quickly, therefore allowing perennial plants to establish well.  Root growth will take place all through the autumn, finally ceasing when the ground freezes in mid-November or even in December, depending on the year.  In autumn fewer weeds germinate so it is easier to keep beds clean while newly planted perennials establish themselves.  Fall planting ensures a heavier spring or summer bloom, too.  These same factors apply to the many kinds of bulbs we plant in fall.  Below is a list of excellent plants for Western Montana, including native wildflowers and some drought-tolerant perennials.   

Butterfly Weed Asclepias tuberosa   18”-2 ft. x 2 ft. wide (plant in full sun) zones 3-9.  This native plant blooms in summer with bright orange flowers which are an important nectar source for bees and butterflies.  The leaves are important as a nursery for Monarch butterfly larvae.   Butterfly weed grows well in dry, poor soils so it needs less water than most garden perennials.

Coreopsis Coreopsis grandiflora  18”-30” x 2 ft. wide (plant in full sun) zones 3-9.  Coreopsis is another native perennial that blooms for a long season, from early summer into fall.  The flowers are brilliant yellow and attract butterflies and bees.  Coreopsis likes a little more water than butterfly weed, but is drought tolerant once established.  It is quite easy to grow.

Echinacea Echinacea purpurea  3-4 ft. x 3 ft. wide (plant in full sun) zones 3-9.   This coneflower is native to the eastern half of the U.S.A. where it grows in dry woods and tall grass prairies.   Once established, coneflower is drought tolerant, needing about as much water as coreopsis.  The roots are used medicinally.   Flowers of the wild form are of soft purple and the bloom period lasts for months, beginning in mid-summer.   Echinacea is another excellent pollinator plant, attracting bees and butterflies. 

Echinacea Echinacea angustifolia  18”-2 ft. x 2 ft. wide (plant in full sun) zones 3-9.  This native echinacea prefers drier conditions than E. purpurea so is very well-adapted to our dry summers.   The plants are a bit smaller also.  The roots are used medicinally and the flowers are an excellent nectar source for bees and butterflies.   Flowering period is early through late summer. 

Blazing Star Liatris spicata  30” x 18” wide (plant in full sun) zones 3-9.  A wonderful native plant with soft purple plumes of long-lasing flowers that attract bees and butterflies.  The flowers can be used for cutting and last a long time.  Plants are easy to grow, needing about as much water as coreopsis, lupine and Echinacea purpurea.

Lupine Lupinus polyphyllus (Minarette Dwarf Hybrids) 16” x 16” wide (plant in full sun) zones 3-9.  Minarette hybrid lupines are descended from a species native to Montana.  They are very well-adapted to our climate and attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.  Flower colors of this strain of lupine are beautiful and include bicolor forms as well.   The plants flower in June-July. 

Monarda fistulosa  2 ft. x 2 ft. wide (plant in full sun) zones 3-9.  The common names for this plant are bee balm and wild bergamot.  This species is native to North America and has showy white to purple flowers that attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies.  This wild species prefers a moist soil, where it will bloom larger and longer in mid to late summer. 

Bee Balm Monarda didyma Panorama Hybrids 30” x 30” wide (plant in full sun) zones 3-9.  These hybrids of a native eastern U.S. species are colorful, fragrant and attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies.   Colors range from pink to red, burgundy, scarlet, purple and white.  Flowers appear July-September.  Bee balm likes a moist soil; the same conditions as M. fistulosa. 

Mexican Hat Ratibida columnifera  12”-36” x 18” wide (plant in full sun) zones 3-9.  The flowers of this native species look like a little orange and yellow sombrero.  The plants are drought tolerant and easy to grow.  Bees and butterflies love the flowers.   

 

 

2017 SEPTEMBER GARDENING

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We have had a very hot summer this year so watch for spider mites on your garden plants, especially those in hot, dry locations.   If you have kept your house plants outside, inspect them carefully before you bring them into the house.  Check for any sign of insects or diseases and if you find any, treat with organic pest controls.  Watch for slugs and cultivate to expose and destroy grasshopper eggs.  Also, watch for corn earworms. 

Another important pest in Western Montana gardens are voles.  Wrap your fruit trees for winter with plastic tree guards so that these rodents will not strip the bark.  An effective method to protect the root ball of trees from being dug into and eaten, is to plant them using wire baskets over the roots.  Voles cannot chew through hardware cloth or into the new vole wire cages.  Caging is a safe-for-the–planet method that works for fruit trees, roses, shrubs, perennials and bulbs.  Be sure to cover the surface of the ground inside the basket edge so rodents cannot burrow down from the top.

Harvest peas, beans and cucumbers consistently in September to keep them producing.   Late in the month remove blossoms from eggplant, peppers, melons and squash in order to direct energy into to ripening remaining fruits.  Cover sunflowers from birds and pinch tomato tips.  Cultivate or hoe around cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, turnips and celery.  Keep late maturing cauliflower and broccoli well-watered.  Plant garlic and shallots and over-wintering onion sets.  You can still direct seed a few plants for fall/winter greens: arugula, lettuce, radishes, cress, corn salad, chervil and kale. 

If you plan to grow crops under tunnels or in a cold greenhouse over the winter, plant seed (early in the month) of crops for winter use: chervil, kale, spinach, lettuce, radishes, corn salad, and winter cress.  Later in the month, from the 20th to the first week of October, plant seeds of cabbage, cauliflower and other brassicas for transplanting out into tunnels in OctoberHave winter covers ready by October 1. 

September is a good time to make new beds for growing mushrooms.  Well-rotted horse manure is excellent. 

Gather ripe seeds of any vegetables (or flowers) you want to save seed from.

Prepare beds for planting bulbs.  Sow seeds of bulbous flowers collected in summer.  Transplant peonies and lilies and dig dahlias after killing frost.  Transplant pinks and carnations (with root ball intact) late in the month and plant out any other perennials and biennials where they are to bloom.  Most perennials can be divided now and replanted where they are to bloom. 

Gather ripe fruit from apples and pears.  Remove diseased fruits and “mummies”, rake up leaves under fruit trees and destroy them (to prevent apple scab).  Prepare equipment to make cider. Prepare beds for planting fruit trees, using well-rotted manure, digging down 18 inches.  Keep strawberries free of weeds and the soil moist.  If you plan to force strawberries in winter, now is the time to take them up and pot them.  Cut a root ball out with a knife, trim off dead leaves and runners and pot into 7 or 8 inch pots.  Place them in shade and water well.  Then plunge the pots in earth up to the rim.  Take them up and into frames or greenhouse before cold weather. 

Protect ripening grapes from birds with netting or gauze; keep weeds away from plants.  If wasps are a problem, hang containers of sugar water to catch them. 

Trim branches of evergreens and walnut trees, so wounds will heal before winter.  Keep weeds cleaned out from nursery beds and plantings of young trees.  Lay down grass turf this month or plant lawn seed. 

September is an excellent time to apply an organic from of potash to your garden plants to strengthen stems and roots in order to ripen them before winter.  Kelp meal can be applied as a surface dressing and watered in or you can do a foliar spray of seaweed twice during the month of September.  Do not apply nitrogen this month as it forces growth that will surely be winter killed.