Plant tomatoes, peppers and melons after the danger of frost is past and the soil temperature is 65° F, usually the last week in May. Plant tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant in different locations each year to reduce insect and disease problems.
Keep mower blades sharp and set your mower height at 2-3 inches. Remove no more than one-third of the total height per mowing and mulch to return nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil.
Hummingbirds and orioles return to northern states by mid-May. Clean and refill feeders to attract these colorful birds to your backyard. Hummingbirds are attracted to flowers with trumpet-shaped blooms such as columbine, salvia, and fuchsia.
Start to monitor lilies for red lily leaf beetles. Check the underside of leaves for the clusters of tiny orange eggs and remove. Spray with neem every 5-7 days to kill larvae and adults or handpick and destroy.
Remove any sucker growths from fruit trees as soon as they appear.
Plant dahlias, gladioli, cannas and other summer flowering bulbs. Put hoops and stakes in place for floppy plants while they are still small.
Ground covers such as vinca, ajuga, pachysandra, creeping foamflowers, lamium, and ivy can be divided and transplanted now to create new beds or enlarge existing ones.
When transplanting annuals and vegetables, be gentle with the root ball. These plants have small root masses that are easily damaged.
Weed around the bases of trees and shrubs and apply a 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch but do not place it directly against the trunk.
Add limestone as recommended and, if possible, incorporate into planting beds but don’t fertilize yet. Wait until mid-April.
As ground becomes workable, de-thatch the lawn if you find an inch or more of thatch; seed any bare spots. Get the lawn mower serviced, have the blades sharpened.
Seeds of annual flowers and vegetables that require 10-12 weeks of growth before transplanting can be sown indoors now.
Plant seeds of cold weather vegetables like spinach, peas, lettuce and broccoli as soon as soil is workable.
Before new shoots emerge, cut back last year’s stalks on perennials and grasses.
Horticultural oil treatments for maple bladder gall mite, spider mites on evergreens and scale on shrubs and trees can be applied; check labels for specifics on appropriate weather conditions.
Eliminate any hard to mow areas such as acute angles in beds and borders. Combine single trees or shrubs into a large planting connected with ground cover. Put the birdbath in a flowerbed or surround it with ground cover.
2015 was a banner year for gypsy moth caterpillars in Connecticut. Check for tan gypsy moth egg masses on tree trunks and branches, scrape or brush off and destroy.
When you are finished with holiday evergreen boughs, use them to mulch tender perennials and shrubs.
Inspect stored bulbs, tubers and corms for rot or infestation. Discard those showing signs of decay or insect damage.
Review garden catalogs for new vegetable varieties to try. Consider varieties with improved insect and/or disease resistance and drought-tolerant types.
Winter is a good time to sign up for gardening classes or seminars offered by many garden centers, town recreation offices, or the UConn Master Gardener Program.
Feed the birds regularly and see that they have water. Birds like suet, fruit, nuts and breadcrumbs as well as birdseed.
Protect your young fruit trees from hungry mice that can chew the bark off at the soil line. Keep mulch several inches from trunks to keep the mice from hiding under it or consider putting wire-screen mouse guards around the trunks of the trees.
When using salt to melt ice on walks and driveways, spread it carefully to avoid damage to nearby shrubs. Consider using sand or sawdust instead.
Houseplants also will benefit from fertilizer applications once or twice this winter.
Seasonal decorations of poinsettia or cyclamen will continue to bloom with proper care. Keep the soil moist but remove foil wrapping to allow the water to drain out. Place your plant in a cool (60 to 65 degrees F) location that gets plenty of light.
Control and reduce aphid numbers on vegetables, roses, perennial flowers, shrubs and trees with a hard spray from your garden hose or two applications of insecticidal soap.
Plant seeds of bush beans every three weeks for a continuous harvest.
Heavy rains encourage slug problems. Check for slugs during rainy periods and hand pick the pests.
Watch for and control blackspot and powdery mildew on rose foliage.
Keep mower blades sharp and set your mower height at 2-3 inches. Remove no more than one-third of the total height per mowing and mulch to return the nitrogen to the soil.
For the sweetest pea harvest, pick regularly before pods become over-mature and peas become starchy.
Stake or cage tomatoes and spray them if necessary to prevent disease problems. Call the UConn Home & Garden Education Center (877) 486-6271 if you suspect tomato disease problems.
To minimize diseases, water with overhead irrigation early enough in the day to allow the foliage to dry before nightfall. Use soaker hoses instead if possible.
White grub preventative control should be applied prior to egg hatch and a target date of June 15th is recommended although it can be done up to July 15th.
Check apple, cherry and other fruit trees for nests of tent caterpillars. Blast low-lying nests with water to destroy them, or knock them to the ground and destroy them. A spray of Btwill kill emerging caterpillars but is not toxic to beneficial insects, birds, or humans.
It is hard to believe that spring is just around the corner. Though we in Connecticut were all teased with 35-degree temperatures, we are quickly back in the deep freeze, surrounded by ugly, dirty snow piles that are just not going away.
But go away, they will…and it won’t be long before many churches, schools, community organizations and day care centers are planning, digging and planting their vegetable garden. Gardens have become very popular. It seems like everyone has or wants one: to teach kids about where their food comes from, to grow food to donate to food pantries or community organizations, to save a little money on the ever increasing food budget, or simply for a little outdoor exercise. The locally grown movement has also helped to fuel the garden trend.
If you are working with a group of folks on a community/school/church garden, have you thought beyond the seed catalogues, watering schedules or how you are going to share your bounty? Will this bounty be grown, harvested and handled post-harvest in a way that will minimize the possibility of contamination with the microorganisms that might cause foodborne illness?
Did you know that fresh produce is the number one food source of foodborne illness in the US? The Centers for Disease Control found that 46% of all foodborne illnesses from 1998 to 2008 were attributed to produce and 23% of deaths from foodborne illness (meat and poultry contributed to more deaths-29%).
And yet, few think as they are growing produce to be shared with school children or those with limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables that they might want to consider the fact that there are microorganisms in the soil, in bird poop or on the hands of the harvesters that could, in fact, make someone sick—especially those that may have a compromised immune system such as those that have a chronic disease, are pregnant, or are malnourished.
So what should you do? By using good gardening and harvesting practices, you can help to reduce potential food safety risks from the food you grow.
When planning your garden…
Locate vegetable gardens away from manure piles, garbage cans, septic systems, run-off from any potential sources of contamination, and areas where wildlife, farm animals, or pets roam. Test soil for contaminants, particularly lead, prior to planting. If lead levels are greater than 100 ppm, precautions should be taken as outlined in the document, Soil Lead Interpretation Sheet, available from the University of Connecticut Soil Laboratory at 860-486-4274. Do you want to use compost? To be safe for gardening, your compost must reach a temperature of at least 130°F. Check the temperature with a compost thermometer. Don’t use untreated manure in a garden that feeds a community group, school or neighborhood.
While your garden is growing…
Know your water source and its potential for contamination. Irrigate using water from an approved public water system. You can be sure that water from a municipal or public water system is safe and potable (drinkable). However, water from lakes, ponds, rivers and streams can be polluted by human sewage or animal waste, fertilizers and pesticides from lawns and farm fields, or chemicals from industry and is more risky. Even water from a rain barrel can be contaminated – best to save that for non-edible plants. If well water is used, be sure to test it at least annually to ensure its safety. During the gardening season, keep cats, dogs and other pets out of the garden, as animal waste can be a source of bacteria, parasites and viruses. Curtail nesting and hiding places for rats and mice by minimizing vegetation at the edges of your fruit and vegetable garden. Fencing or noise deterrents may help discourage other animals.
During harvest time…
People who are sick, particularly with vomiting or diarrhea should not work in the garden or harvest produce. Everyone should wash their hands with soap and water before and after harvesting fresh produce. Do you have hand-washing facilities nearby? Harvest into clean, food-grade containers. Food-grade containers are made from materials designed specifically to safely hold food. Garbage bags, trash cans, and any containers that originally held chemicals such as household cleaners or pesticides are not food-grade. If children are helping out, be sure they are supervised by adults who understand safe harvesting practices. It is best not to let them eat fresh picked food before it is washed. If tools are used for harvesting (knives, clippers), make sure that they are cleaned regularly and designated only for garden use.
If you choose to wash fruits and vegetables before storing, be sure to dry them thoroughly with a clean paper towel. (NEVER wash berries until you are ready to eat them). If you choose to store without washing, shake, rub or brush off any garden dirt with a paper towel or soft brush while still outside. Store unwashed produce in plastic bags or containers. Keep fruit and vegetable bins clean.
When washing produce fresh from the warm outdoors, the rinse water should not be more than 10 degrees colder than the produce. If you are washing refrigerated produce, use cold water. Fresh fruits and vegetables needing refrigeration can be stored below 41° F. Those that are safe to store at room temperature (onions, potatoes, whole, uncut tomatoes) should be in a cool, dry, pest-free, well-ventilated area separate from household chemicals.