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Archive for October 2009

My magnolia tree will not bloom

October 28th, 2009

Magnolia_treeMy magnolia has been in the ground for four years, with no blooms.  I know Holly tone is a great fertilizer for it. I also know magnolia takes about four years to bloom.
But what other fertilizer with a high phosphorus count can I put on it to not
totally mess the lawn area up? Thanks L.S.

Answer: Magnolias are wonderful trees and definitely add a southern flare to any landscape. They are very adaptable to many soil types but prefer an acidic and slightly moist soil. You might start by checking your soil pH with one of our soil test kits. Magnolias’ preference is somewhere in the 6.1 to 7.5 range. If your soil acidity is too low try adding some  Hi-Yield Aluminum Sulfate. These trees also prefer a full-sun location, as well.

The other big factor in bloom time is which cultivar you’ve planted, which you didn’t mention. If you bought it without a tag then chances are it’s a common woods Magnolia grandiflora and these can take up to 15 years to bloom. The newer cultivars that you can purchase from nurseries or growers have been bred to bloom in a shorter time frame, each one slightly different.  Little Gem, a smaller magnolia, gets started blooming in about three years. Other popular cultivars like Bracken’s Brown Beauty, Edith Bogue and Majestic Beauty are bred to bloom in three to five years.

As for fertilization, one source from a southern university extension office recommends during the first three growing seasons to apply light frequent fertilization.  Measure out from the tree trunk three times the canopy width then broadcast 2 cups of an 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet in March, May, July and September. After that reduce this application frequency to once or twice a year. It was also suggested by one grower to apply doses of a liquid acid fertilizer a few times during the year.

I hope you get some magnificent blooms soon. Karen

How does cabbage plants make seed?

October 26th, 2009

cabbageCan you tell me how cabbage plants make seeds? Ken C.

Answer: Cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale and kohlrabi are all of the same species, Brassica oleracea, and have the same seeding and pollination habit. These plants produce a flower stalk that needs to be cross-pollinated (meaning a plant will not accept its own pollen) by insects. 

The cabbage plant sends this flower/seed stalk directly out of the cabbage core. Home growers, unless they live in a very long growing zone, in the fall will need to select at least three firm ready-to-eat heads and remove the plants, roots and all, and store in a root cellar, refrigerator or cold basement. Keep the roots damp and cold during the winter. 

In the early spring you would replant the plants, leaving two to three feet in between them. They will produce the seed stalk directly from the center of the plant.  Since cabbage seeds ripen slowly and fall off immediately when they are ripe, you might want to either harvest the whole plant as the pods turn yellow or pick the dry pods when they turn brown. 

When planted in the open garden – and if you are growing any other members of the Brassica family – you might be surprised what your seeds develop into since the plants can be cross-pollinated with broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc. But they might be interesting in flavor.

Good luck if you give this a try.


Planting, Staking and Pruning Deciduous Trees in the Fall

October 22nd, 2009

tree_carePlanting, Staking and Pruning Deciduous Trees in the Fall

It turns out that trees are even more wonderful than we thought. The Nebraska Forest Service has compiled a list of the environmental, economic, and psychological benefits of trees that would make anyone love trees.

Of course, most people recognize that trees protect the soil, help to keep the air and water clean, and provide valuable shade and windbreaks. Less well known are the economic benefits. For example, the strategic placement of trees near a home can reduce heating and cooling costs by as much as 25%, and increase property values by 15% or greater.

Whether people are in stores, offices, gyms, hospitals, clinics, or nursing homes, they are happier if they can see trees. Children need a few trees to climb to be at their best. Salespersons are more cheerful when there is greenery around, and shoppers spend more at such businesses.

If all this makes you want to plant some trees, don’t hesitate: early fall is prime time for planting deciduous trees, especially if you’re not too far up north. As Jessica Kelling of the ReTree Project explains, “many tree species are able to quickly establish their root systems thanks to fall’s lower temperatures and reduced humidity. This allows young trees to prepare for the upcoming winter and gives them a jump start on spring growth.”

Tree Planting Pointers

There are many excellent Cooperative Extension materials available that will tell you everything you need to know about tree planting in your area. You might also want to watch one of the short tree planting videos that are available on the internet. Both Tree Planting Tips and How To Plant A Tree are pretty good.
You don’t want to begin to plant your trees and then find out that you don't have all the materials to complete the job. So here's a list of what you'll need:

  1. shovel
  2. garden cart
  3. fertilizer
  4. garden hose
  5. mulch and/or compost

If your tree came in a container or wrapped in burlap, you’ll also need a utility knife to cut the container or the string around the burlap. Gardening gloves and safety glasses are also a good idea.

The most common mistake beginning tree planters make is to dig a hole too deep or too narrow. A tree should be transplanted at the same depth as the root ball or container it came in. The hole has to be two to three times wider than the root ball or container so that the roots can easily spread into the soil with which you will fill the hole.

Keep in mind that these roots will eventually extend beyond the circumference of the hole, and they could have difficulty doing so if the surrounding soil is very hard. To avoid this, score the sides of the hole to facilitate root entry.

Once the tree is in the ground, it’s critical to water the tree regularly, and giving it mulch and fertilizer is important also. Since we covered these topics in our Fall Tree Care Guide, you might want to review it before you proceed.

Stake Your Trees Only If They Need It

The good news about staking trees is that you probably won’t need to do it. The exceptions are if your tree came with its roots exposed, if its top growth greatly outweighs its root ball, or if it is being planted in a location that is subject to strong winds or other adverse conditions.

Staking a tree when it doesn’t need it actually stunts its growth and makes it more likely to break or fall over. What’s more, many well-intentioned treestakers forget to remove the stakes when the necessary amount of time has elapsed, resulting in additional problems for the tree. Before you stake, educate yourself as to the issues involved by reading this informative article by Chris Beasley.

If you determine that your tree needs to be staked, carefully follow Chris’ guidelines as well as those offered by forester Steve Nix in this article. Once your tree has been staked, mark your calendar so as not to forget to remove the stakes after one growing season, or after the passage of a year, depending on the tree. Generally speaking, no tree should be staked for more than two years.

To simplify the staking process and provide our customers with materials that meet the standards of professional arborists, we carry Lawson Tree Stake Kits. These kits contain all the parts you’ll need to do a first rate job, including rubber support straps that will not damage your trees the way wire or cord sometimes do. They are a snap to take off when the staking process is complete, and, in fact, you can remove them each time you mow and then easily reattach them afterwards.

Pruning Trees When They Are Dormant

Fall is the all-time best time for pruning deciduous trees. Why? Because the cuts you make in your tree when you prune it will be able to heal without complication or interference by critters and disease-bearing fungi. Also, the lack of leaves provides a better view of the tree’s form, making it easier to identify weak branch joints and dead or broken limbs. A successful pruning will do away with any dead wood or other problematic branches or limbs, encourage positive branching patterns, promote balanced air circulation, and open the tree up to receive optimal amounts of sunlight.

As with staking, you need to know what you’re doing when you prune, especially if you are working with oaks or elms. The U.S. Forest Service has produced an excellent 12-page guide that is worth studying before you get out there and start cutting.

You’ll be pleased to know that we stock all of the pruning tools the Forest Service recommends: bypass and anvil pruners for smaller branches, lopping shears for slightly thicker branches, and a long handled tree pruner to get up high. We also have a variety of tree loppers, some of which also have a long reach. For thicker limbs, you'll want to use a limb saw. Chain saws can be used on the thickest limbs, but not if you need to get up on a ladder!

Some good video tutorials on pruning include How to Prune and Trim a Tree with Mike Craft of Lowe’s, and Tree Pruning with HGTV's Paul James.

Some Parting Thoughts About Trees

While you’re busy trying to figure out whether to make that hole a little wider before you put the tree in, or whether to use a lopping shear or a bypass pruner to take down a branch, it’s good to pause for a moment and appreciate that you are being a steward of the earthan earth keeper, to use more modern language.

As our friends at the Arbor Day Foundation will tell you, trees are needed on the planet now more than ever. You are helping to meet that need. Considering the life span of most trees, the trees you plant today may very well provide benefits to future generations. For some people, that’s the most spiritual aspect of tree planting. As Elton Trueblood writes, “A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.”

How do you grow Ipomoea “Marguerite”

October 22nd, 2009

marguerite_sweetHow do you grow Ipomoea “Marguerite”?  Is it from seed, root, cutting? Marsha C.

Answer: Ipomoea batatas ‘Margarita‘ or ‘Marguerite’ is a varietal cultivar of the large and diverse family of Convolulaceae or bindweed, which includes climbers, herbs, shrubs and trees. The species batatas includes the food group of the sweet potato, and while the culitvars that produce the colorful annual vines will produce tubers like their cousins, these tubers will often not produce foliage similar to the previous season’s growth but may revert to the previous coloration of the plant’s heritage. Most of the starts you see commercially available are produced through a tissue culture process that produces consistent results and allows for mass production. While they do produce a bloom, the flowers are usually sterile and any seed produced is not guaranteed to provide a new plant. It might be possible to take cuttings from plants but I haven’t read any great success stories about this method. If you live in southern Florida, or Zone 9 and above, they are hardy there, and I have also read where people have wintered them over as houseplants inside. But they like lots of light and warmth. They are vigorous growers, so a small plant will in no time take over an area in the garden or in your container.

Hope you give this bright and cheery plant a try.

Happy Growing,


Red colored plant for Florida

October 21st, 2009

coleus_red_planetI am interested in perennials that are red in color and are able to live in direct sunlight in South Florida.  I am looking for a flowering plant that I will not lose as soon as the fall is gone. Any suggestions? Sherry

Answer: Well, Sherry, most perennials have a “bloom period” so ideally you would want to include a variety of plants that would give you the sort of continuous blooms you are looking for. In your climate you also have the luxury of a number of tropicals! Many of those will offer you long blooms and many are red in color, like the shrimp plant, hibiscus, anthurium, phygelius, and lantanas. But you can also consider daylilies, pentas, cannas, celosias, dianthus, gaillardia, red salvia, kniphofia, and even snapdragons. Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ is a particularly vibrant red bloomer that puts on a show mid- to late- summer. Maybe consider a vine like bougainvillea or mandevilla, which both are available in shades of red.

Another consideration is red-leafed plants.  There are more and more varieties to choose from in the cordylines, alternantheras, aclyphas, and phormiums. The common coleus (Solenostemon) is no longer very common looking and is available in lots of red hues.

Don’t be afraid to experiment!  There are so many great options, so little space…

Happy searching for the right red.

The Wonder of Goldfinches

October 20th, 2009

goldfinchAttention: avid birdwatchers and novices, alike.  This is the time to stock up on thistle seed, to attract goldfinches to your backyard feeders.  The lovely songbird couples, mated in monogamous pairs, will adorn your outdoors spaces, adding color and interest to your fall backyard nature preserve.

There are three species of goldfinches in the U.S. and all are equally lovely.  They tend to flock together in large groups.  Goldfinches are known to mate later in the season than many other birds. The male's plumage during mating season is bright yellow with black markings on his head, wingtips and tail.  One white wingbar marks his wings and tail. When not in mating season, he's a grayish brown with hints of yellow and white on his underside.

The female's plumage during mating season is a less vivid yellow on top with a contrasting shade of yellow on her underside.  Her black and white tail is in sharp contrast to her yellow body.  Her bill is light colored, and her wings have two light wingbars. Her tail is black with white tips.  When not in breeding season, her coloring is mostly grey.

The nesting habits of these songbirds are determined by the females, who build nests in tree branches and at the tops of bushes to attract colonies.  The well-constructed nests are crafted from plant parts and then lined with thistle down, the remains of their favorite food source, to provide a comfortable incubation space for their eggs.

Goldfinches feed on weed seeds, like thistle, and insects. When the summer's production of seeds begins to disappear with the fall, it's time to provide goldfinches with a feeder full of thistle to keep them flocking to your yard instead of migrating south toward more available food.  There are many types of feeders that attract goldfinches and are specifically designed to hold thistle.  Garden Harvest Supply has feeders offering up to eighteen feeding stations, and with every manner of optionsaesthetic and practicalto choose from.  There are even finch feeders with perches designed so the birds eat upside-down!  There are squirrel-proof feeders and feeders with eighteen colorful perches to attract goldfinches in mass numbers.

Goldfinch feeders can be hung from feeder hangers or tree branches.  Modern feeders have components specifically integrated to keep moisture out, and to prevent spilling of seed.  Some are designed for the easiest filling, since the goal is to keep attracting wildlife for your viewing pleasure.

It's imperative that you keep bird feeders clean on the outside but more importantly on the inside, so the seed you serve your grateful guests stays fresh and dry.  Cleaning accessories are available for all types of feeders sold by Garden Harvest Supply.  Check the website to make sure you have all the seed, cleaning supplies, and accessories you need to make bird feeder maintenance a joy instead of a chore.  Don't forget to provide a constant source of clean water for your birds' bathing and drinking needs in either a fountain or birdbath.  They'll thank you by providing a water show and a song to entertain you all day long.

Fall Vegetable Plant Question

October 19th, 2009

tomato_creoleHi! I have gotten plants from you before and I love them.  Also I love how you stand behind your products. Thank you. I am in Florida and I want to do more planting of veggies – mostly tomatoes and spinach. Which of your tomatoes are good for Florida at this time of the year, and do you currently have spinach? I got my spinach from you last year and it was great. I grow all my veggies in pots on my patio.  Can you suggest any other ones suitable for Florida?  Thank you, Sue M

Answer: Thank you for all the compliments on the plants.  Always good to get such great feedback on how well they do. 

On our vegetable plant page you will find a number of options that should work just fine for your temperate Florida climate. We have several varieties of peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, lettuce and cabbages that will do well in containers on your patio. We also have spinach plants and spinach seeds available.

Since your spring comes earlier than many areas of the U.S., make sure you check back with us right after the first of the year when we start getting some of our early spring plants just in time for the early growing season in Florida.  Remember, your spring cool season can start as early as January in some area of Florida for crops like cauliflower and turnips, and February for leaf vegetables, tomatoes and peppers. Be sure to check your zone guide to be certain of exact planting dates.

Happy Growing!


Can you tell me about split leaf philodendron?

October 16th, 2009

split_leafCan you tell me about split leaf philodendron? Someone told me that are horrible about tearing up your house in search of water. Is this true?
Vicky H.

Answer: Hmmm… sounds like someone has been watching Little Shop of Horrors

Monsteras deliciosa or split leaf philodendrons come in two varieties, climbers reaching upwards of 30 feet in their natural habitat, and tree or shrub-like with a mature size of 10 feet tall. As houseplants they want lots of room but I wouldn’t really call them destructive. They will produce aerial roots that you can direct into the potting medium to help support the plant as it grows. If the plant becomes too large it can be propagated by stem cuttings or air-layered and the aerial roots can be trimmed. When grown in pots and indoors, the rate of growth will be slower than in their natural habitat but they can still become quite large, so take this into consideration before adopting one. 

They are fairly easy houseplants otherwise, wanting warm daytime temps and evening temperatures in the 60s. They will survive in lower temps for short periods. Medium to low light is acceptable. If new leaves are developing smaller and farther apart, it wants some more light; too much light and the leaves will burn. Keep the soil evenly moist, allowing it to dry out between waterings, and keep the leaves clean and dust free. As a houseplant Monsteras can be susceptible to spider mites, scale and a fungal condition called Leaf Spot.

All members of the Monsteras and Araceae family are poisonous. This includes leaf, stem, root and sap, so be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling one.

Hope this helps your decision. Karen

Fall Asparagus Care

October 15th, 2009

Asparagus growing in the fall gardenIs it beneficial to put down fertilizer on asparagus beds this fall? If so, what are the recommendations? Thanks for your help!  Sammy

Answer: Asparagus is a hardy perennial and like all perennials fall clean-up and fertilizing are good practices to incorporate into those seasonal chores.

Clean-up should begin after the first frost.  The asparagus tops should be removed to the ground to lessen the chances of fungal diseases overwintering in the foliage. With any disease it’s best to not compost this debris as fungus can overwinter and wait for spring to reinfect other plants.

Since asparagus crowns can remain in the same bed for years, one of the best and easiest ways to keep roots well fed is after cutting down the ferns, apply a thick layer of well-composted manure or compost. The spears will push right thru it in the spring. Over the winter the spears are forming, so adding this organic fertilizer in the fall will help energize the plants for the spring growing season. You should not apply a high nitrogen fertilizer to any perennial in the fall. Nitrogen encourages plant growth and lots of new growth just before frost can cause harm to the overall plant health.

Espoma’s Organic Traditions Manure or Triple Phosphate or Bone Meal fertilizer supplements can also be added to help nourish the root systems of the asparagus in the fall. They can also be added in the spring to reinvigorate plants. They also make a great fall supplement for your other perennials, as well.

Master Gardener

How To Plant Bare-root Strawberry Plants

October 14th, 2009

This short video shows how easy it is to plant bare-root strawberry plants, which are shipped each spring. After they are planted, remember to keep the soil moist around the strawberry plants for the next two weeks.

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