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Gary Garner



Garden news, thoughts, tips, musings, rumors, gossip and occasional good advice
from Gary Garner, the Guru of Grass.

Rain, Rain, Go Away - May 19th, 2020


Too cool and way too much rain for this late in May. We want and need rain for our gardens, but not this much and especially not when it is this cool.

Most vegetables like hot and moderately dry weather to perform well. Tomatoes are going to just sit and do little growing during cool, rainy weather like we are having this week. Most other vegetables are going to perform about the same.

One problem with this amount of rain, if your soil is not well drained some drowning may occur. Newly planted, shallow rooted plants do not need a lot of wet soil or water standing around the roots of the plant. If you see plants start to wilt during wet weather you can assume the plant is drowning. Unless the soil dries out quickly the plants are not likely to recover.

Cool weather with plants remaining wet create ideal conditions for fungus diseases and insect problems to pop up. By the time the sun comes out and the plant is dry enough to apply fungicides and insecticides damage may have already occurred. Hopefully the plants are still young enough to grow out of these problems.

Maybe, the biggest problem of all will be with direct seeded crops such as corn, beans, melons, squash etc. If the seed are in the ground but have not germinated, they may swell and rot. What I expect to see with direct seeded crops is that no more than fifty per cent of the seed will be viable enough to germinate. The balance will have rotted in the ground.

If my guess is correct a lot of reseeding will have to be done. In itself this not a problem. Crops may be a little irregular, harvest may be a little later but in the long run no it will not matter. Dealing with Mother Nature is always dicey. We are at her whim. She determines, sunshine, rain, and temperature. We can apply all the fancy growing methods out there but never forget Mother Nature is boss.

Pesky Critters Elimination - May 12th, 2020



It's that time of the year. The grass is growing, weeds are growing and along with all of that bugs and other unwanted critters are arriving. It has been too cool and windy to spend much time on the porch or patio.

It now seems like that is beginning to change this weekend. The weather forecast as I write this is calling for a sunny weekend with temps in the 80s and only a small chance of rain. A great weekend to work in the yard and garden, or relax on the deck.

Along with good outdoor weather comes some bad news. If the weather is good for us to be out, it's also good for all kind of pesky critters to be out. Mosquitos, nats, flies, moths, caterpillars and worms plus many more will be out and about. If we are going to enjoy the outdoors then the critters need to be removed. I will point out here out of all the millions of bug and insects out there only about five per cent are harmful. The other 95 per cent are either beneficial or at least harmless.

We know there are many commercial pesticides on the market that do a good job, however, many people prefer not to use any chemicals. Others like to at least keep pesticide use to a minimum.

There are many plants that will repel various insects and critters. Animals and bugs don’t care for plants that produce a fragrance. Some will repel most bugs some have a more limited use.

Lemon grass, lemon scented geraniums, lemon balm, lemon thyme, and lemon balm will repel a broad range of insects. Mints, decaying fruit and chocolate also make good repellents. Mosquitos are generally repelled by all of these. The plants only work as far out as their fragrance carries. A good way to increase their effectiveness is to crush a couple of leaves on the plant when you are outside. Rubbing your face and arms with some leaves will keep insects away from you.

Lavender does a good job of keeping away moths, flies, nats and other flying insects. Garlic is a good repellent. Too much will even repel people. Throw a few sprigs of rosemary or thyme on the grill when cooking outside will help to clear the area around the grill of flying and crawling insects. The mints tend to repel ants and some crawling varmints.

Marigolds planted in the garden repels nematodes. Nematodes are microscopic size insects that eat and damage the roots of your plants

Many of the leaves on the various plants mentioned can be harvested and mixed with a little water, then processed in a blend to make a spray. This can be used to spray other plants to repel deer rabbits etc. The spray would have to be reapplied after a couple of weeks or after a rain.

A last reminder, if it repels bad critters it also repels good ones. If it repels moths, mosquitos, etc. it will likely repel butterflies and maybe hummingbirds. Just a warning to make certain you don’t repel creatures you want to have around.

Understanding Choices - May 9th, 2020



You see bedding plants, shrubs and trees sold in garden centers in a variety of container sizes and shapes. Each of these has a purpose, some good, some maybe not so good. You see plants in quart pots, gallon pot and so forth.

Now comes the confusing part. A gallon pot is not a gallon, actually a gallon pot only holds three fourths of a gallon. To go even further there are some four or six, I forget which sizes of gallon pots. A three-gallon pot holds two and a half gallons. There is more than one size of three-gallon pots. And, to add to the confusion a west coast pot is shaped different and is taller than the pots used by growers in the eastern part of the country.

Now before you say this doesn’t sound quite honest, remember a two by four is not two by four. It's actually one and a half by three and a half. If you tried to buy a one and a half by three and a half at the lumber yard, they would not know what you wanted. If you asked for a two and a half nursery pot most nurserymen would not know what you were talking about.

There are round pots, square pots, deep pots and shallow pots and on it goes. In the trade you don’t buy containers by size, you buy by numbers. If you are in the business the number translates to the size you want to use to fit your purpose.

As a consumer there are a few things you want to watch for. Keep an eye out for a business selling two-gallon material a couple of bucks cheaper than the guy up the street selling three-gallon material. The plant in the three-gallon pot should be older and bigger and most important have a much bigger root ball. If the two wasn’t at least five dollars cheaper I would buy the three-gallon plant

In bedding plants, you see four packs and six packs. As a general rule I would always buy the four pack. The four pack has a third more soil thus you get a much stronger plant with a much bigger root ball. The plant in the four pack is much more likely to live and grows off much faster. Usually you find the two-gallon material and six pack bedding plants at the big box stores. That’s not knocking the box store it's just a matter of you get what you pay for.

One other thing to watch for are flats of bedding plants that are two to three inches tall with one bloom in the top of each plant. That is a sure sign the plants have been sprayed with a growth retardant. The plants are a week to two weeks old and then sprayed with a growth retardant. The plant will then open that one bloom and then it stops growing for four to six weeks. That bloom makes it look good in the store. You take it home and plant it and it just sets for six weeks and then one day it starts back to growing. You could have purchased a nice four pack that keep right on growing when planted and six weeks later it would be large plant that made a great show.

Just some tips to help you make good decisions when shopping for plants.

Spring Pruning - April 30th, 2020



Many spring plants have bloomed and are beginning to drop their blooms. Now is the time to prune those plants. Most if not all spring blooming plants start to produce flower buds, for next spring's bloom, within four to six weeks after they drop this year’s bloom.

Native dogwoods are through blooming and most of the blooms are off the tree. Many azaleas have bloomed, most camellias have bloomed, the small leafed rhododendron have bloomed. The sooner these plants are pruned the more likely you are to have plants covered in color next spring.

Kousa dogwood, some azaleas and large leaf rhododendron are yet to bloom so wait on those. As soon as they finish blooming prune that group of plants.

A question we get asked every spring is “why are my azaleas or other spring bloomers blooming so much earlier or later than they did last spring”. The answer is that they really don’t bloom per say by the time of year. They bloom by the length of daylight they get. Thus, if you plant the same variety of azalea in front of your house and in back of your house, one may be through blooming before the other the starts to show color.

Dwarf Fruit Trees - April 20th, 2020



I wrote a little about fruit trees a few days ago.  This time I thought I would specifically discuss dwarf fruit trees. Dwarf fruit trees mature at a height of approximately 8 to 10 feet tall.  They produce large quantities of fruit in a relatively small space. With some judicious pruning practices, they can even be kept slightly smaller than the above dimensions.  This makes them ideal for the home gardener.  They can easily be planted in the yard in the place of flowering trees.

They are easy to manage.  Because, they are easy to reach maintenance and harvest can be done while standing on the ground.  They reach maturity and bear fruit sooner than larger fruit trees.

If space is a problem dwarf trees lend themselves well to being grown in containers.  With proper care and maintenance, they will grow and produce fruit even in a container.

You may wonder how do they become dwarfed.  The answer lies in the root stock.  Let me assure you there is no genetic modification or genetic engineering involved.  In fact, it involves an old-fashioned manual process.  Fruit with desirable characteristics are grafted onto compatible rootstock.

Rootstock controls much of the growth and other habits of the plant.  The fruit produced will stay true to the type that was grafted onto the rootstock. However, if you plant a seed from the fruit it will not grow as the same type of fruit.  It grows true to the rootstock.  Thus, if you buy a gala apple in the supermarket and plant some of the seed you will not get gala apples.  Most if not all fruit trees and flowering trees are grown from grafted plants rather than seedlings.  I personally would not buy a fruit tree that was not grafted.  You get much healthier and stronger plants from grafts.

I will try and write more about grafts in a later article.  It is too complicated to explain here.

Dwarf trees may need staking to keep them upright when first planted especially in a windy area.  The stake can be removed as soon as the trunk is strong enough to support the tree.  Pruning is no different than a larger tree. Dwarf trees have less surface area so they may not need as much pruning.

Just as on larger trees you need to cut out dead and diseased limbs.  Remove limbs growing inward toward the trunk of the tree.  Suckers and water sprouts should be removed.  Remove about one third of the new growth annually while the tree is dormant.  Insect and disease control would be no different than on larger trees.

If you have limited space dwarf trees can offer fresh fruit in a very small space.  They offer color in the spring as well as fruit in the fall.

Growing Fruit Trees - April 13th, 2020



This information will be applicable to most if not all fruiting trees.  If you want information on a particular type of fruit drop me as note and I will be happy to see what I can come up with.  While the information should be appropriate for most trees, I am going to use apple trees in my examples.

Apples start life as rootstock on which is a grafted variety.  There are, nurseries that only grow rootstock.  The rootstock determines the trees mature size, tolerance for water as well as cold weather tolerance. Remember, apple trees come in dwarf, semi-dwarf and standard varieties.  The rootstock determines the mature size of the tree.

While the fruit will be true to the graft, the seed will not.  In other words, if you buy a gala or fuji apple and plant the seeds you will not get a gala or fuji apple.  You will most likely get a bushy plant that may have thorns and if it, fruits will bear notty, bitter apples not very edible.

As a general rule, apple trees will be four to seven years old before it bears fruit.  Most mail order trees are shipped bareroot and are one to two years old.  This does not mean they are not good trees, just that you are going to have to wait a few years to eat a homegrown apple.

When we owned a retail nursery, we sold five-gallon size pots.  The trees were five years old and usually produced fruit the first year in the garden.  They sold for about double the cost of a bare root plant. So, the question is, is the difference in price worth the wait.

Once, the plant breaks dormancy and starts to leaf out you can apply light fertilizer and insect control if needed.  I can’t emphasize enough the importance of carefully reading and following label recommendations.  They will vary by different parts of the country.

By about year five will have become familiar with its environment and have developed a routine of when to grow and when to go dormant.  This will vary by climate zone.  The tree now will have limbs and will begin to need pruning and thinning.

With proper care the tree should give you many years of delicious fruit.  Fruit trees are not a plant and forget item.  They take ongoing care and maintenance to be productive.

As said earlier, if you have particular questions message me and I will try to answer them.  I don’t take phone calls.  I can’t help with inventory or pricing questions only with horticulture information.

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