gardening tips

Raised beds for my vegetable garden?

Raised BedsThere’s a growing interest in using raised beds in vegetable gardens, and if that’s your interest, read on. It’s always a good idea to plan a project before jumping in and consider the many variables. Let’s explore some of these.

Why you’re considering raised beds. Many people are interested in raised beds as a way to eliminate as much bending and stooping over in the garden as possible; the higher the beds, the less bending required as you tend your plants. This, in turn, will impact the type of material your beds are made of and the amount of soil your beds will have in them. If you’re interested in portable raised beds (perhaps to be able to move your beds during the day to get the maximum amount of sunlight), that will limit the size each bed will be and what they’re made from.

Space needs and sizes of beds. If you’re a patio-gardener, and have limited space, your beds will need to be smaller than if you set beds within a larger garden area. What you want to grow can also determine the size of your beds. For example, herb gardens fit nicely in smaller beds, while tomatoes, root vegetables, and many other crops need beds that are deeper and larger. If you want to use raised beds with walls, a bed that is wider than four feet will be more difficult to tend; a length of more than eight feet will require more movement to get around the bed itself. The layout of raised beds that are simply mounded soil hills, without structured walls, can much more easily be changed than structured beds with walls.

Materials for raised beds. Raised bed kits are readily available, especially online, and made from a variety of materials, including wood and plastic. Will you buy raised bed kits, which can be expensive, or create your own? If you create your own raised beds, will they be very simply made from highly-mounded soil in your garden, or will they have a solid, box-like structure? If they’re structured, what will they be made from…. wood, concrete block, brick, or plastic? Some materials are more readily available than others, some will last longer outside than others, some are more decorative and easier to disassemble and move, and prices will vary, depending on what you choose.

Irrigation needs of plants in raised beds. Soil in raised beds generally dries out more quickly, since air circulation around the perimeter of the bed contributes to drying, so your garden may need to be watered more frequently. Whether you water by hand, sprinkler, or soaker hoses, it’s important to check the amount of moisture in the soil when setting a watering schedule. As with a ground-level garden, mulching will help retain soil moisture. If you decide to use soaker hoses, it’s helpful to draw a layout of your garden and how the hoses will be laid out to assure that you can water each bed when necessary, especially if some plants need more water than others. Hose layout is also important to plan so that you don’t end up with raised hoses draping from one bed to another, making it more difficult to move among the beds.

Overall, gardening in raised beds can be very rewarding, and much easier if you take the time to plan before you build. If you’re unsure if using raised beds is the right choice for you, start with one or two small raised beds, learn as you go along, and determine what best meets your gardening needs for the future. If you have further questions, you can contact the UConn Extension Master Gardeners at https://mastergardener.uconn.edu/ask-us-a-question/

Article by Linette Branham, 2019 UConn Extension Master Gardener

How To Weed Your Garden: How Often, What to Weed, Tips or Best Management Practices

Yellow FlowerAny undesirable plant in your garden can be labeled a weed. The vegetables or flowers you want to grow will be robbed of nutrients, moisture, light, and space if weeds are not managed. Weeds seem to always outpace the desired plants in growth. They can also harbor insects and diseases.

To be fair, it needs to be noted that some “weeds” in our gardens have a positive side in other circumstances, such as when not surrounding our tomato plant. Many weeds play a healing role in restoring worn-out soil or prevent erosion. Many also provide nectar and shelter for beneficial insects, and can be a food source for animals.

Common garden weeds in our area include annual bluegrass, crabgrass, henbit, creeping Charlie (also known as ground ivy), nutsedge, prickly lettuce, broadleaf plantain and, of course, the dandelion! The best way to know if a self-invited plant on your territory is a potential friend or foe is to get to know your weeds. We can’t eradicate the weeds but we can learn about the ways to manage them.

For weed control it really all comes down to well-timed physical measures. Preparing the ground properly for planting and doing modest clean up often results in a good-looking and productive result.

The simple rule to live by is to avoid procrastinating by waiting for weeds to mature and set seed. Whether annuals, perennials, or biennials, weeds are famous for their rapid seeding and spreading ability.

Hand pull in small enclosed garden spaces. Loosen the soil around the weed with a hand fork so you can remove it with its root. Be careful not to pull flowers or vegetables if weeds are too close to them. Practice close planting when possible to suppress weeds.
Hoeing is the most useful and easiest method to remove the plants you don’t want. Skim the soil surface, don’t dig in too deep to avoid hurting the roots of your plants, and avoid bringing up more seeds to the surface. Hoe on a warm, dry day so the weeds wilt and die quickly after hoeing.

Remove stems and leaves from the garden beds as they may root. Do not compost any weeds that
have set seeds!

Mulching is an effective deterrent to weed growth. When weeds do come up they are usually lanky and can be easily hand pulled. Hay, straw, wood chips, and compost are all natural mulches that work well to smother weeds, and are a good buffer to protect the soil from evaporation and erosion. For large flower areas or vegetable beds, landscape fabric or plastic roll-out weed barriers can be installed, with or without a covering of mulch.

Also, consider where the weeds are, and their amount. If they are in the lawn and there are only a few of them, hand weeding will be more efficient. If the weeds have overtaken an entire bed, hoeing or digging them out may be the best action to take.

Most garden spaces can be managed with physical and cultural controls. If you do chose to use an herbicide, make sure the product is right for your situation – both for the weed in question and the location. Follow the instructions for correct timing and application rates and wear the appropriate personal protective gear.

If you have further questions, you can contact the UConn Extension Master Gardeners at:
https://mastergardener.uconn.edu/ask-us-a-question/

Article by Tatiana Ponder, 2020 UConn Extension Master Gardener Intern

Gardening Tips for November

Gardening Tips for November

  • Cut back perennials that were covered in powdery mildew during the summer. Cut stalks to the ground and dispose of them. Image by Dow Gardens, Bugwood.org.
  • Once the ground has frozen (but before it snows), mulch fall planted perennials by placing 3 to 5 inches of pine needles, straw, chopped leaves around them.
  • Contact your local garden club for a list of upcoming programs or sign up for a workshop, lecture, or course at your local garden center or through the UConn Master Gardener Program.
  • Avoid chilling houseplants by moving them away from windows as nights get colder.
  • Trim existing asparagus foliage to the ground after the first hard frost and mulch beds.
  • Asian lady beetles and brown marmorated stink bugs may enter the home to overwinter. Use weather stripping or caulking to keep them out.
  • After the ground freezes, mulch small fruit plants such as strawberries. One inch of straw or chopped leaves is ideal for strawberries. Small branches may be used to keep mulch in place.
  • Continue to thoroughly water trees, shrubs, lawn areas and planting beds during dry spells until the soil freezes.
  • Cut back most perennials to 3-4 inches. Sedum, rudbeckia, asters, and ornamental grasses can be left to provide winter interest and food for the birds.

For more information visit our UConn Home and Garden Education Center.

10 Tips for the July Gardener

Ten Tips for the July Gardener

Click on highlighted links for additional information.

  • Container and hanging plants may need to be watered in the morning and again later in the day if hot and windy conditions prevail. Check plants again at day’s end to see if the soil is dry.
  • Hummingbirds are attracted to red salvia, coral bells and bee balm.
  • Check out the UConn Extension Bug Week for events, activities, and programs.
  • Tomato hornworms are large green caterpillars that feed on the leaves of tomatoes and related plants. Hand-pick or control with Bacillus thuringiensis. Do not remove caterpillars that are covered in white pupae as they have been parasitized by beneficial wasps.
  • Check brassicas for cabbageworm, diamond-back moth caterpillars, cross-striped caterpillars, and cabbage loopers. Use row covers or Bacillus thuringiensis to control them.
  • Pick up, bag, and trash (do not compost) any dropped apples that show signs of apple maggot.
  • Check roses, Mugo pine, hibiscus, and dogwood for sawfly larvae. Insecticidal soap, Horticultural oil, and pyrethrins are among the low-toxicity insecticides recommended for control.
  • Apply grub control no later than July 15th so that it is systemically in place in grass roots when the grubs hatch in early August.
  • Check family members and pets for ticks after being outside, especially when in tall grass or wooded areas.
  • Leaky garden hoses and fittings can waste water. Check hoses while they are under full pressure and make repairs

Article by UConn Home & Garden Education Center

10 Tips for the February Gardener

house plant

 

  1. Visit our booth at the 2016 CT Flower & Garden Show in Hartford, February 18th to 21st. Bring ½ cup of soil for a free pH test and your garden questions for free advice.
  1. Turn the compost pile during any stretches of mild weather.

 

  1. Surprise your favorite relative or friend with a floral bouquet on Valentine’s Day from UConn Blooms on the Storrs campus.
  1. Check houseplants for signs of spider mites and control by spraying with insecticidal soap or water 2-3 times a week after giving them a thorough rinse in the sink.
  1. If you are overwintering plants into your garage or cellar, check the soil to see if it needs water. If the soil is frozen the location may be too cold.
  1. Purchase seed flats, containers, and peat pellets. Check your cold frame for needed repairs. It’s also a good time to finish up your seed order, if you haven’t done so already.
  1. Begin pruning apples and pears as the weather allows.
  1. Start leek and onion seeds now. They need 10 to 12 weeks of growth before going in the garden.
  1. Prune grape vines at the end of the month. If you grow currants, remove all stems that are over 3 years old on a mild day.
  1. Inspect hemlocks for woolly adelgid. Plan to apply a dormant horticultural oil treatment in April if the cottony egg masses are found at the base of needles.

For more information contact the UConn Home & Garden Education Center at 877-486-6271 or ladybug@uconn.edu

10 Tips for the September Gardener

evergreen NDSU Extension
Photo: NDSU Extension

1. Remove bagworm egg masses from evergreen shrubs to eliminate the spring hatch from over-wintered eggs.

2. If rain is lacking, continue to thoroughly water trees, shrubs, planting beds, and lawn areas. It is especially important to keep newly planted evergreens watered.

3. Plant shallots and garlic outdoors.

4. Use a mulching blade to finely chop fallen leaves and let them decompose on the lawn. Core-aerate to reduce thatch on lawns.

5. Limit herbaceous plant material located a few feet away from the house to eliminate hiding places for insects and mice that could wind up indoors as temperatures plummet.

6. Beets, parsnips, and carrots can be covered with a thick layer of straw or leaves and left in the ground for harvest, as needed, during the winter. This may not be an option in areas with heavy vole populations.

7. Avoid the spring rush and have your soil tested now by the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory (www.soiltest.uconn.edu). Incorporate recommended amounts of limestone and fertilizers into the vegetable and flower gardens for next year’s growing season.

8. As tomatoes end their production, cut down plants, pick up any debris and put dead/diseased plant parts in the trash or take to a landfill. Many diseases will over-winter on old infected leaves and stems so these are best removed from the property.

9. Weed and mulch perennial beds using a loose organic material such as bark chips or leaves to keep down weeds, preserve moisture, and give roots a longer time to grow before the soil freezes.

10. Outwit hungry squirrels and chipmunks by planting bulbs in established groundcovers. Lift and store tender bulbs, i.e., cannas, dahlias and gladiolus after first frost.

For more information contact the UConn Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 877-486-6271.

Blossom End Rot of Tomatoes

By Carol Quish for UConn Extension

 

blossom end rot on tomato
Photo: Ohio Extension

August is supposed to be the month of non-stop tomatoes. Occasionally things go awry to interrupt those carefully laid spring visions of bountiful harvests, sauce making, and endless tomato sandwiches. Blossom end rot can appear to put an end to the crop production by damaging the ripening and developing fruits. We are seeing and receiving calls in a higher number than more recent years from backyard gardeners complaining about black rotten spots on the bottom of their tomatoes. The spots start as a thickened, leathery spot that sinks in, always on the bottom of the fruit.

Blossom end rot can also occur on peppers.

Blossom end rot is a physiological condition due to lack of calcium. Calcium is needed by plants for proper growth in all functions of cell making, but is most important for cell walls. Without enough calcium either in the soil, or if delivery of uptake of dissolved calcium in soil water is interrupted, cell division stops in the fruit. Tomatoes are especially sensitive to a lack of calcium.

Interruptions in uptake of calcium can happen by repeated cycles of soil drying out, receiving water, and then drying out again. Times of drought and hot, humid weather make the problem worse. Plants lose water through their leaves through a process called transpiration, similar to the way we sweat. They then pull up water through their roots. If there is not enough soil moisture, plants wilt. This break is water delivery also limits calcium delivery. Tomato, and to a lesser degree pepper fruits, respond by developing rot on the bottom, the end where the blossom was before the fruit started growing.

High humidity and multiple cloudy days reduce transpiration, thereby reducing water uptake. This leaves plants not able to bring up new calcium rich water to the site making new cells of the fruit. Another interruption of delivery of calcium resulting in blossom end rot. This means that even if you have enough calcium in the soil and you water the soil regularly, the plants still may not be able to move enough calcium to where it is needed to produce a fruit.

Have a soil test done to make sure soil has enough calcium and that pH levels are around 6.5 so nutrients are most readily available. Water regularly so plants receive 1 to 2 inches of water per week for optimum growth. Feel the soil around the root zone to make sure water is soaking in and reaching the roots. Humidity and cloud cover are not obstacles we can help the plant with, so monitor the fruit for rot spots and remove. There are calcium foliar sprays that claim to deliver calcium to be absorbed by the leaves for use by the plant. This won’t help after the rot has already developed, but may help deter future spots on still developing tomatoes.

10 Tips for the August Gardener

green tomato
Photo: Diane Hirsch for UConn Extension
  1. Remove non-productive plants from the vegetable garden and sow cool weather crops for fall harvesting.
  2. Renovate strawberry beds by mowing to a height of 1 ½ inches, thinning plants and side-dressing with a balanced fertilizer.
  3. Stop pruning evergreen trees and shrubs to avoid promoting new growth that will not harden off by the first frost.
  4. Pick summer squash and zucchini often to keep the plants productive.
  5. Fertilize container plantings and hanging baskets.
  6. Reseed the lawn in late August. Be sure to keep the seed moist until germination.
  7. Allow tomatoes to ripen on the vine for the best flavor although some cherry tomatoes are prone to splitting if left too long.
  8. Continue to scout for insects in the vegetable and flower garden, hand-picking them when possible.
  9. Practice good sanitation by removing any fallen fruit or plant debris from the garden, do not compost it.
  10. Don’t forget that trees and shrubs require water during extended dry periods.

For more information please visit the UConn Home and Garden Education Center or call 877-486-6271.

10 Tips for the July Gardener

  1. Do not prune rhododendrons and azaleas after the second week of July as they will begin setting their buds for next year’s blooms.

    Azalea-extensio.org
    Photo: extension.org
  2. Put netting on fruit trees and bushes a few weeks before the fruit begins to ripen to protect it from birds and squirrels.
  3. Fertilize roses for the last time in mid-July.
  4. Pinch back herbs to stop flowering and encourage branching. Pick herbs early in the day when they are well-hydrated. Air dry, microwave or freeze.
  5. Raise the mower height to 3 inches in hot weather.
  6. Water plants and lawn early in the day to reduce the loss of water due to evaporation. Check containers again at day’s end as they can dry out during a hot day.
  7. Control mosquitos by eliminating sources of standing water.
  8. Inspect garden plants regularly for the presence of insects and disease.
  9. Grub controls should be applied to the lawn no later than July 15th.
  10. Check out the UConn Dairy Bar’s summer ice cream flavors – peach and blueberry cheesecake!

For more information please visit the UConn Home and Garden Education Center.

Deformed Spinach? Could be Crown Mites

By Joan Allen for UConn Extension

 

spinachSome spinach cultivars are expected to have pretty bumpy, puckered leaves. If your plants are not that type, but the leaves look like that or have small holes in them when they expand, crown mites (Rhizoglyphus sp.) are a possible cause. Conditions that favor mite activity and damage are a soil high in organic matter and a cool, moist environment. Mites can be found in both soil and within the smallest, just-opening leaves in the crown of the plant.

Magnification is required to see these tiny, nearly transparent mites. Transparent, spherical eggs are laid in the inner folded leaves and mites of all stages of development can be found together. They feed on germinating seeds, seedlings and young plants. Damage is reported to be less significant as the plants increase in size. The mites are characterized by having long hair-like setae attached to their posteriors as seen in the magnified image.

This pest was first described in the U.S. in California in 1949, so it’s familiar to spinach growers there, but it’s pretty new to us in New England. There was a report of this pest from Rutgers University in New Jersey in 2013.  Definitely something to be aware of if you grow spinach. The occurrence reported here was from New London County, Connecticut. The spinach was being grown in a high tunnel and about 75% of the young plants were affected with symptoms as pictured.

Recommendations for this pest include good sanitation (removal of infested plants) and crop rotation.  Efforts to promote warm temperatures and reduced humidity may also be helpful.  For additional information, this is a good fact sheet from University of California.

To see more pictures, please visit the UConn Home and Garden Education Center’s blog.