Name Size Days to Maturity Determinate or Indeterminate Color Other Info
Sunsugar Cherry 65 Ind Orange Sweet, wins taste tests
Juliet Grape 60 Ind Red Reliable, prolific fruit set
Polar Baby Small 2” 60 Det Red Cold weather tomato from Alaska
Stupice Small 2” 60-65 Ind Red Czechoslovakian
Glacier Small 2” 55 Det Red Very Early
Beli Naliv 6-8 oz 60 Det Red Cluster-type, Russian
Celebrity 8 oz 70 Det Red Disease resistant
Parks Whopper 4” 65 Ind Red Disease resistant

 

Plant Hardiness Zones—What do they mean?  Are they important?  By Jan Cashman 12/3/13

This winter, when you’re studying gardening magazines and seed catalogs to decide what to plant next spring, do you ever wonder about the “Zone” numbers next to plant names?   These numbers are supposed to tell us whether a plant will grow in an area.  The US Department of Agriculture has based these zones on average annual minimum temperatures during a period of years and put them on a map so anyone can easily tell what zone they live and garden in.

The USDA published their first Plant Hardiness Zone map in 1960 making 10 hardiness zones in the United States based upon 10 degree Fahrenheit gradients.  Then, in 1990 a major overhaul of the map was completed using temperature data from 1974 to 1986.  One new zone was added and the 10 degree gradients were broken down into 5 degree “A” and “B” zones, an improvement for us gardeners.  

In 2012 the USDA released a new map adding two new climate zones, 11 and 12. This map is available as an interactive GIS-based (Geographic Information System) for which a broadband Internet connection is recommended.  Users can type in their zip code when on the web site (planthardiness.ars.usda.gov) and find the hardiness zone for their area.  

Before the USDA did their 1990 overhaul, Bozeman was listed between hardiness Zones 3 and 4.  Because of warmer weather in the years 1974 to 1986, the revised 1990 map listed Bozeman as Zone 4B and we are still listed as Zone 4B on the 2012 version.

Bozeman and surrounding area gardeners and need to realize that these hardiness zones are only guidelines.  Temperature extremes, elevation, rainfall, humidity, length of growing season, and soil type  are not taken into account when determining these zones but are important when determining a plant’s ability to thrive in a certain area.

TEMPERATURE VARIATIONS:  Inland mountain climates have extreme temperature variations.  For instance, the Gallatin Valley might be 30 degrees below zero on a winter day and the next day, a Chinook wind will warm the air to 50 degrees.  These extremes can damage the tender buds of plants that have not fully reached dormancy.  On October 12, 2009, after a mild start to fall, the temperature dipped to a record low of 9 degrees.  The next spring many green ash, flowering crabs, and quaking aspen trees never leafed out.

RAINFALL AND HUMIDITY:  Bozeman’s average annual precipitation is 19.3 inches and Belgrade’s is 14.8;  humidity is low both summer and winter.  Evergreens such as white pine and balsam fir might be listed as Zone 3 but will not thrive here.  They grow better in locations where there is more humidity and winter cloud cover to protect their needles from winterburn.  

LENGTH OF GROWING SEASON:  In high elevations the growing season is short, fewer than 90 frost-free days in some places.   Some late-blooming perennial flowers listed as hardy in Zone 3 might grow OK in higher elevations but never bloom because the season is so short.  When planted at a high elevation, late season apples like Honeycrisp won’t have time to ripen.

SOIL TYPE AND pH:  The USDA hardiness zones do not take into account soil variations.  Many plants do not grow well in the heavy, poorly drained soils which are common to our area.  Plants such as blueberries, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, and even some maples, need acid soils to thrive, but our soils in the Valley tend to be alkaline, ranging in pH from 7.0 to 7.4, even higher in areas around Manhattan and Three Forks.

This winter, when you are planning your spring plantings, use USDA hardiness zones as a guide.  But also remember your soil type and our high and dry climate.  Make adjustments accordingly and your gardening will be more successful.  

By Jan Cashman 7/8/12

We don’t know what the rest of the summer will bring, but so far it’s been hot and very dry.  Humidity has been low and the trees, shrubs, flowers, and vegetables in our yards and gardens can easily become stressed.  Here are a few hints from those in the know…

  1. Water deeply and less often.  This was the most commonly mentioned hint by those I polled.  Whether it’s grass, trees, shrubs, or flowers, deep watering encourages deep rooting.  Just wetting the soil’s surface won’t do that; the roots will stay shallow.  Large trees will especially benefit by a trickling hose under them until the root system is saturated.
  2. Water in the cool of the morning, not the heat of the day when there is less evaporation.  This will waste less water.
  3. Water the soil, not the leaves of your plants.  Water hitting the leaves of your plants, whether  lettuce in your vegetable garden, or roses or quaking aspen can encourage fungus (leaf spot) diseases.
  4. Establishing new plants, whether sod, flowers, vegetables, shrubs or trees, takes more frequent and diligent watering than your established plants do.  These new plants are not rooted in well so their new root systems will dry out quickly.  The sprinkler system for your lawn is not enough for newly planted trees and shrubs.
  5. Group plants with like water requirements together for efficient watering.  Consider native plants that require less water.  Many beautiful landscape plants are drought tolerant, once established.
  6. A thick (up to 3”) mulch, such as soil pep (ground up bark), holds moisture in the soil and decreases weeds.  Mulches work especially well in perennial flower beds.
  7. Just because you have a drip or sprinkler system, doesn’t mean you can forget about it.  Drip systems can plug up; they can be set wrong.  Dana Durham, owner, Lawn Rain Sprinklers, recommends one or more 5 gallon per hour emitters for trees and 2 gallon per hour for shrubs, running twice a week on established plants.  Bubblers are recommended over traditional drip tubes for trees and shrubs—they are less likely to plug.   Dana is using a new, popular product called ‘Netafim’ to water perennial and annual flowers with emitters inside a pipe every 6” or 12” in a grid system.  The pipes can be covered with mulch to hide them.   Natafim stations for flowers are separate from the tree and shrub stations, coming on more often—sometimes twice a day during this hot weather.

    Reset your lawn sprinkler system to come on less often (possibly every other day during hot July weather, twice a week when the weather is cooler) but with a longer duration for each set.  (Newly laid sod needs to be watered more often.)

    You can check the amount of water your system puts out by placing straight-sided cans around under the sprinklers.   Don Mathre, former MSU Professor and Garden Club member, says that the old idea that plants need 1” of moisture per week does not hold true during dry and hot weather in mid-summer.  Reset your system and water more during these times.  Possibly as much as 2” per week or more will be needed depending on your soil type and where you live.  (Belgrade’s soils are rocky and drain quickly, so plants there need more water than those of us with heavy clay soil.)

  8. Stick your finger down a few inches into the soil to test its moisture.  And watch for wilting plants.  Close personal observation of your plants is the best.
  9. As summer progresses, decrease watering of trees and shrubs to encourage them to ‘harden off’ or go dormant.  This may mean cutting back on your sprinkler system settings, where trees and shrubs are planted, come August.   By then, the days are shorter and the nights cooler so less water is needed to keep your grass green.
  10. Remember, overwatering can be just as detrimental to plants as underwatering.  In low spots, with a sprinkler system, or where heavy clay soils are present, plants can drown.  Symptoms of overwatering are a lot like those of underwatering—yellow leaves, brown edges on leaves, wilting.   If the area is squishy wet when you walk on it, or if you have landscape fabric with mulch around your plants, check for overly wet ground and make corrections.

Enjoy your summer but, for the health of your landscape plants and lawn, be aware of their water requirements as the summer goes on.

By Jan Cashman

The first fall that At Home was published, the year 2000, I wrote about how to prepare your yard for winter. The information still applies, so here is the article, revised, with added information on winterizing your perennial flowers:

Lawns

We continue to water our lawn some in the fall because we want it to stay green. However, your bluegrass lawn won’t die if your stop watering it now; it will go dormant and fade to yellow.

We recommend that you fertilize your grass now with a fertilizer that is lower in nitrogen (the first number on the fertilizer bag) and higher in phosphorus (the second number). 16-20-0-14 is an analysis that works well. There is no potassium in this analysis (the third number) because potassium is usually plentiful in our soils. The fourth number is sulfur, an element that will help release the iron in our alkaline soils.

Mow your grass short as we enter winter; tunneling voles prefer tall grass. Shorter grass will also discourage snow mold from forming under the snow.

Fruits

You may not yet have picked your late season apples, like haralson, haralred, sweet 16, and red baron. Leave these late varieties on the tree into October, if possible, so they will ripen fully, but pick them if the temperature is going to dip below 25 or 26 degrees, so the fruit doesn’t freeze.

Apple trees, especially young ones, should be protected from deer year round, but especially in the fall and winter. Deer could rub them with their horns, damaging the bark, and also eat the twigs. There are many commercial deer repellants available that work well if reapplied often. One homemade deterrent is net bags of human hair hung in the trees. But we have found that the only sure way to keep deer away from your trees is to fence them.

Wrap the trunks of fruit trees in the fall to protect from sunscald–the sun blistering the bark on the sunny side of the trunk. Wrapping will also protect the trunk from voles burrowing under the snow and gnawing on the bark of your young fruit trees.

This fall or early next spring, cut back dead raspberry canes to the ground and thin the new canes to about one every 6 “. Some varieties of strawberries may need mulch protection to protect them in a severe winter.

Trees

We recommend watering your trees less in late summer so they harden off (go dormant) for winter. Once the trees have dropped their leaves and are dormant– around November 1– water them deeply. Their roots will overwinter better in wet ground than in dry.

Before winter, wrap the trunks of smooth-barked trees such as maples and mountain ash up to their bottom branch to prevent sunscald. You can use purchased tree wrap although cardboard held on with duct tape works well, too. We like to use white plastic tree protectors that can be reused and will protect from both sun and from voles gnawing on the bark. Push the tree protectors down into the soil so none of the lower trunk is exposed to rodents.

Fall is not the best time to prune trees with the exception of maples and birch which will “bleed” from the pruning wounds if pruned in the spring.

Evergreens

Evergreen trees should also receive a deep watering around the beginning of November before the ground freezes. Pines, spruce and fir trees can “winterburn” from the sun refelecting off the snow and the wind drying out the needles (called winter desiccation). Some of the more tender varieties of evergreens include dwarf Alberta spruce, yews, and pyramidal arborvitaes. Plant these tender evergreens on a north or east exposure or in a spot where they will not receive direct sun in the winter. You can also protect them with a shade made of fabric stretched between two poles on their southwest side. Or try a spray-on an antitranspirant such as ‘Wiltpruf’.

Roses

Hardy shrub roses, as the name implies, should not need winter protection. Hybrid tea and other tender roses, on the other hand, will not always survive our severe winters without some protection. Protect them by mounding soil around each rose and then add a mulch such as straw, bark dust, or peat moss. We shovel snow on our roses for added insulation. Wait until spring to cut back tender roses. Some successful rose growers in our area protect their roses with rose cones; make sure their top is vented to keep moisture from building up inside the cone.

Perennial Flowers

Once perennials are starting to turn brown in the fall, cut them back to about 6” of stem. This 6” will trap insulating snow. Remove the rest in the spring. Some gardeners prefer to wait till spring to cut back perennials, but I think the dead tops give your garden an unkempt look in the winter. Heucheras (coral bells) are one of a few perennials that are evergreen here. They should never be cut back to the ground.

Leave the attractive foliage and flower heads of ornamental grasses and perennials such as Sedum spectabile to enjoy all winter; wait till spring to cut them back.

On some beautiful day this fall, get outside and protect your plants from winter’s hazards; your plants will thank you for it.

The last few years of drought in Montana have made us all aware of the problem of excessive water use in the landscape. Some years, water rationing makes a water-wise landscape essential. In the 80s the word “xeriscape” was coined to mean a landscape which uses plants that have low water requirements. The word was coined to encourage homeowners to make a conscious attempt to develop plantings which are compatible with the environment.

There are many reasons to conserve water in your landscape. It makes sense not to waste a precious resource. And financially, it saves money, especially if you are paying for city water.

Some ways to save water in your landscape

  1. Reduce the size of your irrigated lawn area or plant grass which needs less water. The commonly used Kentucky bluegrass needs about 1 ½” of water a week to stay green. „Water Saver‟, a blend of tall fescue grasses, stays green with less water and still looks like a traditional lawn. Some people choose to plant native grasses which can survive with little or no irrigation after they are established; these bunch grasses do not look like a traditional bluegrass lawn.

    If water rationing or water limitations force you to water your bluegrass lawn less in the heat of the summer, the grass will not die, but will go dormant until spring or a time when it again gets enough water.

  2. Group plants with similar water requirements in beds so they can be watered together rather than scattering them. Plant those requiring the most water together near the house. Farthest from the house could be your “no water” zone. Plant natives and drought tolerant species there.
  3. Build retaining walls rather than planting on slopes where the water will run off.
  4. Improve your soil for the best water retention and plant health. Much of our soil in this area is clay. Because the small particles in clay soils hold a great deal of water, poor drainage results and the roots are deprived of oxygen. Generously incorporate organic matter (compost, well-rotted manure, or peatmoss) into your soil to improve soil consistency and drainage.
  5. Keep areas around trees and shrubs weed and grass free. Clean cultivation in a ring around trees and in shrub beds allows water to be used by the trees and shrubs, not by weeds and grass.
  6. Mulch shrub and perennial beds with 2 to 4 inches of bark chips, cedar mulch, or fine bark dust; mulch holds moisture in the ground and keeps the soil cool. Homeowners often want low-maintenance landscape fabric or underlayment to totally block weeds from growing in their mulched beds, but this can create a too-wet environment for the roots of trees and shrubs. Organic mulches without an underlayment of landscape fabric or poly let the roots breath but cut down on evaporation.
  7. Irrigate smartly. Drip systems or soaker hoses allow for less evaporation than overhead sprinklers for watering trees, shrubs, and gardens. Water deeply when you water; make sure the water soaks down to the root system. Let your hose trickle onto the roots of trees until they are deeply moistened. Apply at least ½ “ of moisture to your lawn during each sprinkling. For most people, that means longer sets for each zone of your sprinkler system, but less often. Water during the early morning when there will be less evaporation. Of course, when we do receive rain, turn your sprinkler system off until it is needed again.
  8. Choose plants which are native or which require less water. Many beautiful landscape plants are drought tolerant.

Trees

Green ash, one of the best shade trees for this area, survive with little water after they are established. The only oak known to thrive here, Burr oak, is drought tolerant. Boxelder, although not a prized landscape tree, is a good hardy shade tree for dry areas. We can‟t forget Russian Olive, an extremely drought tolerant tree with attractive gray-green leaves. And chokecherries including the decorative red leafed Canada red cherry don‟t need a lot of water either.

Other trees that survive without a lot of water once established include Ohio buckeye, amur maple, and even quaking aspen and cottonwoods.

Evergreens

Many of the evergreens we commonly use in our landscapes are drought tolerant. Ponderosa pines and junipers come to mind right away. But Scotch pine, Colorado spruce, Black Hills spruce, and limber pine all will grow without a lot of water.

Shrubs

We all know that the native potentilla, buffaloberry, yucca, and sagebrush are drought tolerant. But other attractive ornamental shrubs such as honeysuckle, sumacs, lilacs, and, of course, caragana will survive with minimum water.

Perennials and Ground Covers

Your perennial beds can also be filled with drought tolerant plants. The native yarrows flourish in low water areas. Dianthus, lamb’s ear, purple coneflower, hens and chicks, and Russian sage don’t like much water. You have probably seen blue flax blooming along the roadsides with no irrigation. And the native baby’s breath is all over vacant lots in the Butte area. Ground covers such as sedum and snow-in-summer thrive in hot, dry areas. Although some of the ornamental grasses can be planted in boggy areas, others such as blue fescue and blue oat grass are very drought tolerant. Many herbs, such as lavender, thrive in drier conditions.

Whether you plant a yard with yucca, sagebrush and native grasses, or just choose drought tolerant plants in certain areas of your yard, you can conserve water by choosing the right plant for the right place.

by Jan Cashman

It’s fun to watch birds out your window, especially in the winter.   If you provide adequate food, shelter, and water for them, you can attract a wide variety of birds to your yard.  Many species of birds are found in Bozeman and the surrounding area.  Sparrows, finches, chickadees, cedar waxwings, grosbeaks, even Hungarian partridge, ruffed grouse and pheasants are some we have seen in our yard.  Here are a few ways to attract more birds to your yard in the winter—and summer, too:

Food

A bird feeder filled with oiled sunflower seeds will attract finches and chickadees.  We once added thistle seed to our feeder, but found that the birds dropped some seed which emerged into thistles next spring.  ‘Nyjer’ is an imported nutritious substitute for thistle seed, higher in calories and oil, and heat sterilized to prevent germination.   Suet, hung near your bird feeder, is also a good source of heat and energy for birds in the winter.

It is better to buy individual kinds of bird seed rather than a mix; the birds will just toss the seeds they don’t like in the mix on the ground.

Provide bird food at different levels to appeal to different kinds of birds.  Bird seed doesn’t have to be in a bird feeder.  We sprinkle seed on our deck rail; and on the ground for pheasants, grouse, and partridge.

Plants for the Birds

Besides buying food for your bird feeders, plant trees and shrubs that produce seeds and fruit.  Native plants provide food and shelter that the birds are accustomed to.   Serviceberry, dogwood, silver buffaloberry, skunkbrush sumac, wild rose, alder, Douglas hawthorn, chokecherry, snowberry, yellow currant, and junipers are all native plants that will make the birds feel at home.

Flowers with abundant seeds, both annual and perennial, like sunflowers and purple coneflower, will attract birds.  Don’t be too quick to dead-head flowers that are done blooming; let them go to seed.

Small, fruit-bearing trees, such as mountain ash, flowering crabs, Russian olive, alder, and hawthorn, provide good food and nesting habitat for your feathered friends.   A flock of cedar waxwings or grosbeaks will swoop into a mountain ash tree in the winter and eat every berry.  Many of the newer varieties of flowering crabs have fruit which is ‘persistant’, in other words, the fruit hangs on the tree until eaten by the birds; it does not drop on the ground and make a mess.

Large shrubs like serviceberry, high bush cranberry, arrowwood viburnum, buffaloberry, Nanking cherry, cotoneaster, and honeysuckle, provide food for birds.  Avoid severe pruning of these shrubs—the birds will like them better if you let them grow tall and natural.  Currants and gooseberries are smaller shrubs with good fruit for birds (if you don’t use their fruit yourself).    Shrub roses are great for birds, providing protection and edible rose hips.

Both Virginia creeper and dropmore scarlet honeysuckle are vines that produce fruit for the birds, plus their tangled vines can provide hiding and nesting places.

Shelter

While bluebirds need a nesting box, most birds just need shelter from the elements and a place to hide.  Evergreen trees provide good shelter both winter and summer.   The large, old Techny arborvitaes surrounding our deck provide wonderful shelter for shy chickadees.  Spruce and upright junipers also make good shelter.  Tall shade trees provide a necessary canopy for the birds in the summer.  Maples and birch trees have the added bonus of seeds.

An impeccably manicured yard with lots of mowed grass is not the ideal landscape for birds.  Birds prefer a wild, natural environment.  An unmowed field of wildflowers and native grasses can provide food and cover for many birds.  Dead trees left standing and brush piles may not be beautiful to our eyes, but they can provide nesting places, food, and cover.  If you live in the country, you may want to leave your yard a little rough around the edges for the birds.

Water

Birds need water—they especially like running water.  Heaters can be purchased for bird baths in the winter, providing necessary shallow water access.  Always keep your bird bath filled with water.  A pond, big or small, located near protective cover, gives the large birds someplace to go.  Ducks might stay all winter if your pond has open water.

Provide food for the birds, plants that give them shelter, and a water source, and you will have birds of all kinds in your yard—this winter, and next spring, summer and fall.

by Jan Cashman

We tell kindergarten students when they tour our nursery that plants “go to sleep” in the winter.  This is a simple explanation that small children can understand, but what does dormancy really mean?   What happens to plants in the fall?  Dormancy is a state of “rest” plants enter to survive the freezing  temperatures of winter.   Some plants will also go dormant in periods of drought.  For instance, a Kentucky bluegrass lawn will turn brown, but survive in a dormant state, if you don’t water it; cactus in the dessert can survive months of drought by going dormant.

Deciduous Trees and Shrubs

The brilliantly colored fall leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs are the first signs of dormancy.   During the spring and summer, green chlorophyll in the leaves of plants absorbs energy from sunlight that is used to transform carbon dioxide and water to carbohydrates for the life of the plant.  In the fall, triggered by shorter days and lower temperatures, chlorophyll in the leaves starts to break down, the green color of the leaves disappears, and yellow and orange pigments (carotenes and xanthophyll), also present in the leaves, become visible.  Quaking aspen and birch show only yellow pigments.  Other chemicals changes can occur to form anthocyanin pigments which produce the red and orange leaves of maples.

This fall, our drastic low temperatures in early October (Some places broke the record low by 13 degrees!) prevented the leaves of most trees and shrubs from turning these beautiful colors.  Instead, the leaves seemed to ‘freeze dry’ on the trees and turn brown.

When these extremely cold temperatures occurred, our trees and shrubs had not reached full dormancy yet.  There may be damage, but we won’t know for sure until next spring how much damage.  Flower buds, formed in the summer, are the least able to stand cold and, therefore, the first to be hurt.  The low temperature a plant’s flower buds can tolerate before they are damaged varies with each plant.   For instance, a lilac’s flower buds could withstand lower temperatures than, say, a forsythia’s; a hardy Norland apple tree’s flower buds could withstand lower temperatures than a peach tree’s.  Leaf buds, also formed in the summer, can be damaged by cold, especially if the cold occurs before the bud develops a protective hardened scale around it.  Severe cold can even ‘freeze back’ the tree’s branches.

In the fall, when the plant reaches its full dormancy or rest, it will not grow, even if the weather turns warm, until it completes its required time of dormancy,  different with different plants.  When this time of dormancy is completed and the weather warms up, the plant can begin growth.  Winter injury of trees most often occurs when the dormant period has been met, we get a warm spell, and then it turns cold again.   Warm Chinook winds, common here, can be hard on our trees.

We can never totally protect our trees from weather changes in the winter that might damage them.  But, wrapping their trunks up to the bottom branch in the fall with a light-colored tree wrap will reflect the sun and keep it from warming the bark too much on a sunny day.   When the bark is warmed to above freezing during the day, followed by colder nighttime temperatures, the cells can burst and cause injury.

Although they slow or stop growing in the winter, roots are the most susceptible plant part to cold damage.  Conveniently, the ground acts as an insulator for roots.  Snow cover adds more insulation to the plants’ roots.  The roots of plants in a pot (above ground) are easily hurt by cold temperatures.

Evergreens

Even though evergreens are always ‘green’, they do lose some needles every year; needles stay on evergreens for 3 to 4 years before the needles closest to the trunk drop, called ‘fall needle cast’.  Evergreens sustain winter injury in a different way than deciduous plants because the needles on the tree continue to transpire.  Dry winds and cold ‘desiccate’ or dry out needles in the winter.  Because the ground is frozen, moisture cannot be replaced up from the roots as it would be in the summer.   Also, freezing and thawing of the needles can burst needles’ cells, turning them brown.    To prevent this ‘burning’ in evergreens, plant tender varieties such as dwarf Alberta spruce, arborvitae, and yews in shady, sheltered spots.   Or construct a shade out of burlap between posts to protect the south and west sides of the trees in the winter.  Anti-desiccant sprays such a Wilt Pruf put a protective barrier on needles to keep them from drying out.  Apply them once in late fall and again in February.

All landscape plants, trees, shrubs, evergreens, and perennials, benefit from a deep watering in the fall once they have gone dormant, around November 1, so the roots freeze in moist soil.  Dormancy is nature’s way of protecting your trees and shrubs from our harsh winters.   You can aid this process by protecting and watering your plants this fall.

 

by Jan Cashman

A tree branch that is 2 feet off the ground this year will move higher up the trunk as the tree grows; crabgrass is prevalent in Bozeman area lawns;ants are needed to open peony blossoms. None of these are true. There are a lot of misconceptions about gardening. Some are harmless, but others, if taken as fact, can cause you to do harm to your plants. Here are more gardening misconceptions that you may have believed were true:

  1. All Newly Planted Trees Should Be Staked

    Don’t stake if you don’t have to. It is thought that tree trunks grow stronger without stakes as trees establish. You should stake trees if 1) you live in a windy area, 2) the tree is top heavy (very tall or has a small root system in comparison to its top), 3) you are planting it on a city boulevard where vandalism could be a problem. Check often to make sure the trunk of the tree is not being strangled by the strap or hose attached to the stake. We recommend leaving stakes on no longer than 2 years.

  2. Add sand to clay soils to improve them.

    Adding sand to clay soils can make your soil worse by binding with the clay to make your soillike concrete. Adding organic matter, such as peat moss, compost, or well-rotted manure, is a better way to improve clay soils

  3. If a plant is listed for hardiness in Zones 2 or 3, we can grow it here.

    Hardiness zones are determined only by the average high and low temperature in an area. There are other factors that affect which trees and plants will survive and grow in an area, such as length of the growing season, soil type, rainfall, humidity, snow cover, temperature fluctuations, and elevation. Some trees and shrubs listed as hardy in Zone 3, or even 2, might not thrive here, while others listed as Zone 4 or even 5 will do well.

  4. If a little water (or fertilizer or herbicide or insecticide) is good for the plant, more must be better.

    Too much water can be just as harmful to trees as not enough. Often we find the planting hole full of water when we are removing a dead tree, because the sprinkler system runs too much and the soil drains poorly.

    Too much fertilizer can also be harmful. In newly plantedplants, too much Nitrogen encourages leaf growth before the root system can handle it. Over fertilized plants eventually decline. Do not fertilize trees after the beginning of July because new leaf growth will be encouraged when the tree should be starting dormancy.

    Always follow label instructions for herbicides and insecticides. Some herbicides, such as Dicamba, when applied too often to kill broadleaf weeds in your lawn,will persist in the soil.

    Excess fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides can get into water sources and pollute the environment.

  5. You don’t need to water drought tolerant plants.

    Even drought tolerant plants may need supplemental water until they get established, especially when the weather is hot and dry.

  6. Trees need to be fertilized every year to keep them healthy.

    Most of the time, trees get the nutrients they need from the soil in which they are planted. Have your soil tested to find out if it is deficient in essential nutrients and needs fertilizer.

  7. Ants will eat your plants, so get rid of them.

    Ants don’t eat plants. They are, for the most part, beneficial to soils because they loosen them. If you find ants on your trees and shrubs, they are probably feeding on the honeydew produced by aphids—and aphids do damage your plants. Control large populations of aphids on the stems and leaves of your plants with either insecticidal soap or malathion before they do serious damage.

  8. Paint all pruning wounds with tree paint.

    Research has shown that the tree will heal itself from a wound and tree paints are not necessary.

  9. A “No Maintenance” landscape.

    There is no such thing as a “No Maintenance” landscape; even paving your whole yard would require some upkeep. A sprinkler or drip system can cut down on time dragging hoses around, but the system needs to be checked to be sure sprinkler heads are working, and adjusted to compensate for rainy or hot weather. Mulched shrub beds with fabric under the mulch to keep weeds down are one way to lower maintenance. But, after a while, weeds will grow on top of the fabric. Lawns need fertilizer, weed control, and mowing, so many people think that eliminating grass will lessen maintenance, but replacing grass with ground covers and flower beds that need to be kept weed free can be more work than mowing.

Just because someone says it, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. Investigate gardening hints and stories before you make them part of your gardening routine.

by Jan Cashman

There are 16 elements which plants require for survival, growth, and normal development called “essential elements”. Three of them-carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen-are found in the air and water. The other thirteen are provided by soil and/or fertilizers. Six of these thirteen are listed as “macronutrients”, required in large amounts by plants; the other seven are called “micronutrients,” or trace elements, required in much smaller concentrations by plants. Micronutrients include iron, chlorine, manganese, zinc, boron, copper, and molybdenum.

Nitrogen (N), phosphorus(P), and potassium(K), essential macronutrients, are the three plant nutrients which are most commonly deficient in soils. Every fertilizer label states the percentage by weight that the product contains of these three macronutrients. They are always listed in the order N-P-K.

Nitrogen is important for vegetative growth. Plants deficient in nitrogenare typically yellow, spindly, and lack vigor. Ample phosphorus is required for normal root development and is involved in cell division, flowering, fruiting, and seed formation. Potassium is essential for plants’ resistance to certain pests and diseases. Too little potassium can cause weak stems and poor root development. Calcium, magnesium, and sulfur, called secondary macronutrients, are also essential but are less likely to be deficient in plants.

You can buy fertilizer in either chemical or organic form. Chemical fertilizers, which are less expensive, provide higher levels of nutrients and are faster acting. Organic fertilizers include fish emulsion, manure, and blood, bone, or grain meals. Most of these natural products contain only one nutrient-blood meal and manure contain only nitrogen; bone meal only phosphorus. Organic fertilizers contain lower levels of nutrients than chemical fertilizers, and release their nutrients more slowly, therefore are less likely than chemical fertilizers to burn the plant. Milorganite, an organic fertilizer made from biosolids with added iron, has been used by golf courses for years because it will not burn or pollute and is slow release.

Not all plants in your yard and garden require supplemental fertilizer. Mature trees and shrubs need little or no fertilizing if they are healthy specimens. On the other hand, fast growing lawns, annual and perennial flowers, and vegetables are more likely to require supplemental feeding. Different kinds of plants need fertilizing at different times of the year and with different types and different analyses of fertilizer.
I fertilize my annual flowers throughout the growing season with water soluble Miracle-Gro fertilizer through a spray feeder every ten days to two weeks. Miracle Gro’s “All Purpose” formula is 20-20-20 but I prefer the “Bloom Booster” formula 15-30-15, with higher phosphorus, to promote flowering. Miracle-Gro’s formula also includes a number of trace elements. Osmocote is a slow release fertilizer we recommend for your flowers in pots. It lasts up to four months so you only have to fertilize once at the beginning of the season.

I use a granular fertilizer for my vegetable garden, dressing the rows with a light application when the seedlings emerge and again when the plants are about half grown. A chemical fertilizer such as16-16-16 in 40# bags is economical and works for vegetables, however, I prefer Lilly Miller’s Tomato and Vegetable Food-5-10-10–that is released slowly and contains a number of trace elements. Do not use a fertilizer too high in nitrogen on your garden vegetables and flowers; too much nitrogen results in lots of vegetative growth but fewer flowers and fruits or vegetables. One exception to this might be sweet corn, which is a heavy user of nitrogen.
Lilly Miller’s slow release Rose and Flower Food-5-8-4–works well to fertilize perennial flowers. In the spring, I sprinkle a small handful of it next to each plant to give them a good start.

Some shrubs, especially roses, do best with regular fertilization. I use a rose food that contains both fertilizer and a systemic insectide. Flowering shrubs may also benefit from an annual application of fertilizer, but many shrubs grow well with no supplemental nutrients. If a shrub puts out strong new growth with good color each year, it is doing well without feeding. If new growth is scant, pale or weak, fertilize your shrubs.

Be careful of overfertilizing any newly planted shrub or tree. Use mild, water soluble fertilizers that are made for transplanting. Do not use strong, chemical fertilizers that could burn the roots of a young tree or shrub.
We sell easy-to-use fertilizer spikes for trees. If your tree is growing satisfactorily, they may not be necessary, but, if your tree’s new growth is weak, sparse, or pale, maybe fertilizer will help. Never use more tree fertilizer spikes than recommended. Pound them into the ground at least 2 feet from the tree’s trunk. I do not recommend fertilizer spikes on trees whose diameter is less than 2 inches because they are too strong. Never fertilize trees after July 1. Late fertilization encourages new growth when we want the trees to slow down and start to go dormant before winter.

Lawns, usually made up of Kentucky bluegrass in Northern climates, need fertilizer to grow well, maintain a deep green color, and stay thick to resist weeds. Use a fertilizer high in nitrogen for your grass such as 25-10-10 in May and again in July. Apply one pound of actual nitrogen per 1000 square feet of lawn area each time, using a broadcast spreader. (If the first number on the fertilizer bag says 25, it contains 25% nitrogen so a 40# bag has 10 pounds of actual nitrogen in it. On a 10,000 square foot lawn, you would use the whole bag.) Then use an analysis higher in phosphorus for your fall fertilization to promote root growth during fall and winter. We recommend 16-20-0-14 (the last number is sulphur).

Our area’s clay, alkaline soils bind up iron and make it less available to plants. A fertilizer that contains added iron helps avoid chlorosis in your plants, a condition caused by lack of iron where the leaves yellow between the veins and weaken.

Whatever fertilizers you are using on your lawn and garden, be sure to follow label instructions carefully. We have many stories of customers who have overfertilized–tree spikes placed too close to the trunk of a productive plum tree, killing it– newly planted potentillas dying because the customer put handfuls of undiluted Miracle Gro in the holes. Remember, for all types of fertilizers, more is not better. Too much fertilizer can burn or kill your plants.