Monthly Archives

August 2016

Save Energy And Money With Plants

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It’s been a hot summer and the heat’s still on. Everyone I know is trying to find ways to stay cool, but running the AC all day means higher energy costs. One solution is to plant more trees, shrubs and vines to help with cooling.

Planting for beauty is one thing, but the shade that trees produce is more valuable than you think. Some experts estimate by strategically planting just three shade trees, you can save up to $250 a year in energy costs.

In addition to planting shade trees, there are other ways plants can help reduce energy costs. Here are some ideas for putting plants to work for you:

Plant shade trees on the south side of the house to provide the most shade in summer and warmth from the sun in winter.
Use dense evergreens, planted on the north and northwest sides of the house or other structures as windbreaks to also help reduce cooling costs.
Landscape so trees, vines and shrubs shade driveways, courtyards, and large windows.
Allow at least one foot between the house and the plants to add an extra layer of insulation.
Plant climbing vines on trellises for shade and to reduce reflected sunlight from buildings, walls and fences.
Add an arbor near the patio for a climbing rose that will offer shade and attract beneficial insects.
Plant drought-tolerant groundcovers as a living mulch or use them to reduce the amount of turfgrass to water.
Keep the lawn healthy by irrigating deeply, but less frequently. Follow the watering rules for your community and water the lawn only when allowed.
Test to see if the lawn needs watering by walking across the grass first. If the grass springs back when you lift your foot, it doesn’t need water.
Top dress the lawn with a thin layer of compost to encourage healthy roots by feeding beneficial microorganisms and slowing water runoff.
Layer mulch around trees and plants to help maintain soil moisture and slow evaporation.
Use a mulching mower and leave grass clippings on the lawn to add nutrients back into the soil.

Solving Summer Garden Problems

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This summer certainly has been tough on the landscape. Strings of 90-degree heat, low humidity and the lack of reliable precipitation have taken their toll on plants and gardeners alike.

Even though we may want instant results, it takes time and patience to solve some of summer’s lawn and garden problems. The most important step in the problem-solving process is to diagnose the problem correctly. An incorrect diagnosis can lead to even more problems.

For example, many lawn issues can look similar, but have different causes. That patch of dead grass on the front lawn could be caused by a lack of water, insect damage, a fungus or a dog spot.

If you’re seeing problems in your bluegrass lawn right now, it might be a fungus called summer patch. Sometimes summer patch starts as small circles of dead grass or larger patches that seem to appear overnight.

This plant fungus takes over turfgrass roots when there are extended periods of hot temperatures following wet weather. Sound familiar?

Because summer patch is a root disease, solving this problem means using good lawn practices to encourage healthier roots. One method is to raise the mower height to leave grass blades taller. Aeration to improve drainage may also help.

But lawns that look like they have summer patch might have necrotic ring spot instead. Both show up in the same way in lawns and the only way to know for sure is to have a turfgrass sample evaluated.

You can take a sample to one of the lawn and garden experts at Nick’s or you can contact your county’s Extension office to ask about plant diagnostics. The key to a good diagnosis of the problem is a fresh sample. Once the sample has died or is dry, it’s almost impossible to distinguish one problem from another.

For lawn samples you’ll need a large sample (about the size of a shoebox) that shows the transition from the healthy grass to the affected area. It’s important to keep the roots covered and take the sample in quickly before it dies or dries.

For samples of trees and shrubs, it’s best to take a sample of a branch that’s at least 12 inches long and that has leaves attached. Again, the sample should show both healthy and affected leaves.

Weeds are also easier to identify if you bring in as many fresh plant parts as you can collect.

A good diagnosis takes the guesswork out of solving the problem. Once you know the reason for the plant problem, you’ll be able to discuss the options for controlling it.

Summer Tips For Tomatoes

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Gardeners start the season with such high hopes for growing bushels of beautiful tomatoes. Then August hits and we’re reminded that tomatoes can sometimes be challenging to grow.

Often the problem is obvious, like when a hungry squirrel eats half a ripe tomato right off the vine. Other times, the problems come from plant diseases or insect pests.

Here are some common tomato problems for this time of year, and what to do about them:

Plants are wilting. Sometimes wilting is because plants need water and other times it’s because tomatoes are being overwatered. Before watering plants, be sure to check to make sure the first inch or two of soil is dry. If plants start to wilt in the middle of the day, even when the soil is moist, the problem may be a soil-borne fungal disease like verticillium wilt or fusarium wilt. Pull up plants that don’t recover and dispose of them in the trash.

Damage on tomatoes. When you see problems starting on the tomatoes, pick those fruits and toss them on the compost pile. There’s no reason to leave wormy fruit or tomatoes with blossom end rot on the plant because it takes energy away from forming other tomatoes.

Soil dries too quickly. Mulch around each plant (even in containers) with an organic mulch like thin layers of dry, untreated grass clippings, dried tree leaves, or straw. Water plants deeply, but infrequently.

Blossoms are dropping. When daytime temperatures heat up too quickly and nighttime temperatures remain high, tomato plants can drop their flowers. There’s not much you can do except to wait for cooler nighttime temperatures.

Spots on leaves. Spots could be caused by a fungus, most likely late blight at this point in the summer. Look for problem leaves growing on the upper part of plants that shrivel and die. In the future, space plants farther apart to help with air circulation and be sure to water at soil level to keep leaves dry.

Leaves disappear overnight. Look for tomato hornworms, those large green caterpillars that eat the leaves off plants. These insects are difficult to see because they’re the same color as the plants. Look closely, pick them off by hand and drop them into a paper bag or bucket of soapy water.

Leaves that yellow and curl. The problem could be psyllids, tiny insects that also feed on plants. Pick off the unhealthy leaves and throw them away, and then look on the undersides of healthy leaves. Hose off the insects with a blast of water early in the day so leaves have time to dry.

Tomatoes with cracks. Cracks that appear as circles at the stem end of the tomatoes or along the side are the result of rapid growth. This problem is usually caused by wet weather followed by dry weather. Use mulch and be sure to keep the soil deeply and evenly moist.

Leaves turn yellow and drop. Spider mites may be the culprit. Infestations of these pests show up as small specks on leaves. Look for these small red mites on the underside of leaves and hose them off with water. Keep checking to make sure they don’t return.

Tomatoes aren’t ripening. Root pruning may help speed up the ripening process. Remove any tomato blossoms that form in late August (they probably won’t have time to mature), stop fertilizing plants to slow growth, then use a shovel or hand trowel to cut through the roots around the plant, about 8 inches from the stem. Leave the soil in place. Pruning tells the plant to get busy ripening the fruit because the end of the season is near.

What To Plant Now – August

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August seems like the time when some gardeners start to let gardening tasks slip. But don’t give up yet! There’s still time to get out and enjoy the garden while summer is in full swing. Keep pulling those weeds and watering those plants. If your landscape is starting to look a little droopy, perk it up with some new plantings.

Here’s what you can do in the garden this month:

Remember to plant biennials. Biennial plants, like hollyhocks, can be planted now so they have time to start growing and set good roots before the ground freezes. They’ll start regrowing next spring, ready to bloom.

Search for shrubs. Take a walk around your yard and look for places that could use a new shrub or two. If you want to see your landscape in a new way, set your camera to black and white to take a few photos. By taking the color out of the picture, you’ll be able to see blank spots or what plant sizes and shapes are missing from the landscape.

Plan for perennials. Look for hardy perennials that will bloom next season. Planting them now gives roots time to start growing through fall. Then next year they’ll be ready to start growing again.

Add new annuals. Sometimes annual plantings can be refreshed by cutting stems back and fertilizing. While you’re waiting for the next flush of flowers, buy a few new annuals for instant color.

Pull out spindly plants in containers and window boxes. Replant containers with a few fresh plants for a new look. One of the easiest ways to do this is to make room in the soil for the plant and its container. As the seasons change, it’s simple to remove the container and pop something new in its place.

Continue planting cool-season vegetables for fall harvesting. Good choices to plant in August include beets, kale, lettuces, mustard greens, radishes, spinach and turnip greens. Save growing time by planting some vegetables from transplants instead of seeds.

Plant more herbs. Arugula, chives, cilantro, dill and parsley all make for a second season of summer harvesting. Look for transplants or seeds that will sprout and grow in the shortest number of days.