gardening tips

The Season for Strawberries

Photo and article by Susan Pelton for UConn Extension

 

strawberries
Photo: Susan Pelton

We moved into our home in December of 1996 and by June of 1997 I had broken through the sod, tilled the soil, fenced in an area, and planted a new garden. One of the first additions to that garden was a strawberry bed. Even though it took up ¼ of the space and only produced fruit during June I was always happy to have it there. Over the ensuing years the plants have, at various times, bloomed, bore fruit, sent out runners for daughter plants, and died. Three years ago I renovated the plants and moved them to a different area within the garden. This year they started to bloom around Mother’s Day and there were already a few signs of small green berries within a week. The weather during that time was unseasonably warm with a few days of temperatures close to 90°.

By May 15th the rainfall for Connecticut was already 1.74” below normal. Like most fruiting plants strawberries require 1” of water per week during fruit set and the growing period. Most years this is not an issue but this season has required many trips to the slowly depleting rain barrel. At least it has been warm. Some years a soggy, cold spring has led to a very small harvest. Also, temperatures that dip into the 25-35° range require covering the plants as they are susceptible to frost damage. If you have pushed their winter mulch to the side you can just bring it back over the plants should there be a frost warning.

There are three types of strawberries that are generally available for the home gardener: June bearing, everbearing and day neutral. June bearing, as their name suggest, produce fruit during a 2-3 week period in June although there are early, mid and late season varieties. Everbearing strawberries have three periods of flower and fruit production during spring, summer and fall.  For better productivity and fruit quality choose day neutral over everbearing. Day neutral strawberries produce fruit throughout the growing season with few runners. If your space is limited, the soil quality is poor, or you like to plant in containers or beds, then day neutral is a good choice. Day neutral strawberries are often grown as annuals and replanted each spring. If you choose to allow the beds to carry over to the next year you may see that the yields will decline.

Strawberries prefer well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. They need full sun. Do not plant strawberries in an area that has had solanaceous crops such as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant or peppers within the previous four years as non-host specific Verticillium root rot fungus also affects strawberries. Another soil-borne fungus that affects strawberries is Phytophthora fragariae (Red stele). Phytophthora fragariae is a very persistent fungus and can survive for up to 17 years once it has become established, even if no strawberries are grown during that time. Even varieties that are listed as resistant may succumb if planted in an area that has had a prior infection. Black root rot is another disease brought on by fungi, nematodes and environmental factors. Avoiding areas that become waterlogged is very important when growing strawberries.

After you have enjoyed the fruit from June bearing varieties the plants should be renovated. This is the part that makes me cringe. Mow the strawberry plants to a height of 1 ½” above the crowns! It seems to go against every gardening intuition that I possess. Then fertilize with a balanced fertilizer. You may also need to narrow the plant rows to 10-12” and thin out plants that do not look healthy. Spread 1/2” of soil over all but do not bury the crowns. Be sure to continue watering through the fall.

Strawberries may require a bit of work but they are definitely worth the effort. Biting into a fresh-picked, still warm from the sun, strawberry is a bit of heaven. And then ladling lightly sugared berries over a biscuit with whipped cream? Yum. Or baking them into a crisp accompanied by rhubarb also fresh from the garden? So good. And of course, it doesn’t get any better than cooking them into preserves and hot water bath canning them so that they can be enjoyed all winter long. As of this week I had one 12 oz. jar left from last year’s batch. Now that I can see this year’s crop coming I popped the seal, put a nice spoonful on some cottage cheese and remembered all the reasons that I have strawberries in the garden.

10 Tips for the May Gardener

  1. Thin or compacted turf will benefit from core aeration and over-seeding. Keep new seed moist until germination.
  1. Remove spent blooms on tulips, daffodils and other spring flowering bulbs to focus its energy on growing new bulbs rather than producing seeds.
  1. Plant tomatoes, peppers and melons after the danger of frost is past and the soil temperature is 65° F – usually around the last week in May. Rotate plants each year to reduce insect and disease problems.
  1.  Ground covers such as vinca, ajuga, pachysandra, creeping foamflowers, lamium, and ivy can be divided, transplanted and fertilized now.
  1. 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.
  1. Plant dahlias, gladioli, cannas and other summer flowering bulbs. Put hoops and stakes in place for floppy plants.
  1. Turn your compost pile to add oxygen and speed decomposition.
  1. Feed azaleas, rhododendrons, and other ericaceous ornamentals with fertilizers for acid-loving plants.
  1. Begin deadheading roses and apply fertilizer in mid-May, mid-June and mid-July.
  1. Fill hanging baskets and containers with trumpet-shaped blooms such as nasturtiums, nicotania, fuschias, and salvias to attract hummingbirds.flowers-Illinois Extension

10 Tips for the April Gardener

grass and tree trunk

 

  1. Purchase onion sets for planting and set 1 inch deep and 4 to 5 inches apart when soil can be worked.
  2. Early spring is a great time to spot spray or hand-dig dandelions. If spraying, choose a product that won’t kill grass. If digging, wait until after a rain, when soil is soft.
  3. Apply horticultural oil sprays to control insect pests on fruit trees if temperature is over 40°F.
  4. Fertilize all fruits mid-month except for strawberries- these are fertilized later in the season.
  5. If you have dead spots in the lawn, patch them before the summer heat. Top dress bare areas with a mix of topsoil and compost, then reseed.
  6. Raised beds dry out quicker in wet springs, keep soil from becoming compacted by foot traffic and make crop rotation simpler.
  7. Plant dahlia tubers indoors in pots. Pinch the growing tips when they reach 6 inches to keep the plant stocky and make transplanting easier.
  8. Prune ornamental grasses, sedum, hydrangea, and buddleia to a height of 6-12 inches before new growth appears.
  9. Make a note of gaps in flowerbeds and fill in with spring flowering bulbs next fall.
  10. Sow peas, carrots, radishes, lettuces, and spinach weather permitting. Plant seedlings of cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli but cover if frost threatens.

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

Connecticut Seeds for Connecticut Gardens

Photo and Article By Dawn Pettinelli

seed packetsAbout now, many of us gardeners have a stack of seed catalogs several inches high and have started combing through them acquiring all kinds of ideas and a long wish list. Before finalizing you orders, spend a bit of time going through any leftover seeds from the previous year. Many seeds, including tomatoes, peppers and zinnia remain viable for several years. So if you are just starting 2 ‘Sungold’ tomatoes each year, you might just need to purchase seeds every third or fourth year. On the other side of the spectrum are short-lived seeds whose germination declines with every passing year. They include vegetables such as onions, leeks, parsley, parsnips and sweet corn. It is best to purchase new seeds for these crops every year for best results.

 

How older seeds are stored will also affect viability. They can be kept in their individual seed packets, small coin envelops, or in plastic or glass containers. Wondering what to do with the envelopes your bank teller or ATM hands you? Give them a second life storing seed collected from the garden. The key to seed saving is to keep them dry, not exposed to very hot or cold temperatures, and away from heat sources. I use a photograph box and organize my seeds into two rows – flowers and vegetables. Others use plastic bins while another option is putting them in photograph albums with pocketed sleeves. Any extra seeds which you won’t be using this year could be traded with friends, donated to community or school gardens or offered to local garden clubs.

 

I’m not sure how many local readers have signed up for the CT 10% Campaign (http://www.buyctgrown.com/ct-10-percent) but purchasing seeds from Connecticut seed companies is just one more way to spend 10% of your food and gardening money locally. Connecticut has at least 6 seed companies with numerous offerings.

 

The oldest is Comstock, Ferre & Co., which was founded in 1811 by Joseph Belden who advertised his first seed variety and price list in the Hartford Courant. His brother later took over the business selling seeds out of the 1767 home their father built which still stands in Wethersfield today. In 2010, Jere and Emilee Gettle purchased the company with the intention of returning it to its heirloom roots. One of their goals is to search and preserve the seed varieties listed in old catalogs and seed lists. They also are working on the restoration of the buildings and grounds on the historic site eventually creating a living history museum depicting the importance of agriculture and heirloom varieties.

 

Now known as Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds/Comstock, Ferre & Co. and still located in Wethersfield, CT, the company offers vegetable, flower and herb seeds at their company store as well as online. Check out www.rareseeds.com to view their offerings, business hours and family friendly events.

 

The Chas. C. Hart Seed Company, after being founded in 1892, is still being run 5 generations later by Charles C. Hart’s great-great grandsons. Beginning as a small, home-based, consignment seed package business, it slowly grew purchasing other seed businesses in Connecticut and neighboring states. Although the original wood building housing the Chas. C. Hart Seed Company burned in 1943; a new office/warehouse building was constructed on the historic Wethersfield site.

 

Hart Seed is GE (genetically engineered) free and is typically sold online in bulk. While one may not need 1000 or more seeds, which might be a catalog minimum, individual packets can be found at many Connecticut locations including garden centers, agricultural supply shops and hardware stores throughout the state. For a list of locations, visit www.hartseed.com.

 

Although not as old as the previous two seed houses, NE Seed was founded in 1987 by two longtime friends with the purpose of creating a line of ‘high quality, chemical-free seed products’ reasonably priced and consisting of conventional, organic, heirloom and hybrid vegetable, flower and herb varieties. Seeds from their catalog are generally ordered in bulk but like Hart Seed, their smaller seed packets are available at a variety of local venues.

 

NE Seed also offers bulk seeds of native forbs and grasses, which would work well when establishing a wildflower meadow or wildlife habitat plot. They are located in Hartford and at www.neseed.com.

 

Select Seeds – Antique Flowers is a unique seed company located in Union, CT specializing in old-fashioned flowers but offering a limited number of vegetables and herbs, all non GE seeds, as well as annual transplants and perennials. What is unique about antique flowers, as well as heirloom vegetables, is that they are open pollinated which means that if the seed produced by the parent plant is saved and replanted, an identical plant or one very similar to the parent plant will grow. Seeds can be saved from year to year. With many of us New Englanders residing in older homes, the flower varieties offered by Select Seeds may well be the same ones our grandmothers and great-grandmothers were growing and also, quite compatible with the historic and architectural elements comprising our homes. See their complete listings at www.selectseeds.com.

 

If one is focused on cooking what one grows, Kitchen Garden Seeds in Bantam, CT www.kitchengardenseeds.com may have some attractive offerings.  Scroll through their seed offerings to find a variety of vegetables, herbs, flowers and specialty collections. There is a relatively large selection of Asian vegetables and even the telephone number of their seed specialist who will take your calls during the week. Request their print catalog or order on-line. This company offers numerous recipes using their herbs and vegetables and a nice assortment of horticultural tips.

 

Lastly, while not typically for the general public, Colonial Seed of Windsor should be mentioned. They specialize in native grasses, sedges, legumes and other native plants that are needed for habitat restoration plantings, native wildflower meadows, forage fields and other challenging sites. Some of their seed is available through other commercial outlets like Hart Seeds but contact this company directly at www.colonialseed.com for more offerings.

 

Connecticut residents are lucky as it is not that difficult to live and buy local in many areas of our state. Support local businesses, including seed houses and local garden centers as a way of supporting the businesses employing your neighbors and keeping local dollars in the local economy.

10 Tips for the February Gardener

bluebirds on box

  1. Visit our booth at the 2015 CT Flower and Garden Show, February 19th-22nd, at the Connecticut Convention Center. Bring ½ cup of soil for a free pH test and your gardening questions for free advice.
  1. Provide houseplants with increased humidity by misting often or placing plants over a tray of moist pebbles. Clean the leaves of smooth-leaved plants like dracaena, philodendron, and ficus of dust.
  1. Purchase seed flats, containers, and peat pellets. Make your own seed starter mix by combining equal parts of sphagnum peat moss, perlite and vermiculite.
  1. If you start your seeds under fluorescent lights check the ends of the tubes for dark rings. This is a sign of aging and they should be replaced. Dispose of the used tubes properly.
  1. Start slow growers such as celery, leek, or onion transplants. This is also a good time to start petunias and begonias. Consider using pelletized seed.
  1. Check any plants that are being overwintered in the cellar or garage to see if they need water. If the soil is frozen they may need to be moved to a slightly warmer location.
  1. Birdwatchers – if you missed Cornell’s Great Backyard Bird Count, Feb 13 – 16th, visit http://gbbc.birdcount.org – you can still enter data through February 28th.
  1. Look for tan gypsy moth egg masses on tree trunks and branches. Scrape or brush off the masses to remove them and then destroy them.
  1. Check on perennials, adding mulch if needed.
  1. Turn the compost pile during any stretches of mild weather.

For more information visit the UConn Home & Garden Education Center.

10 Tips for the January Gardener

bluebird
1.      Check out the Garden Master classes that are available throughout the state at http://mastergardener.uconn.edu/. Most classes are open to both Master Gardeners and the general public.

2.      If driveways or sidewalks have been treated with a de-icer that contains sodium chloride do not pile this snow on plants or in areas where the melting snow will drain on to them. Consider using sand, sawdust, litter, or one of the commercial products that are labeled as safe for plants.

3.      Fill bird feeders regularly, supplying a variety of seed and suet to accommodate a variety of tastes. Clean feeders and baths monthly with a solution of 1 part bleach and 9 parts water, rinsing thoroughly. A heater in the birdbath ensures a usable water supply.

4.      Remove snow from evergreens as soon as possible after a storm. Prune storm-damaged limbs to prevent further tearing of the bark. Prop up ice-covered branches until the ice melts instead of attempting to remove it.

5.      Avoid heavy traffic on the dormant winter lawn. The crowns of grass plants may be severely damaged.

6.      Prepare your hand tools for the upcoming season. Sharpen the blades, oil the levers, and remove any rust. Painting the handles red or orange will make the tools easier to locate when they are laid down in the lawn or garden.

7.      If a thaw occurs apply anti-desiccant sprays to broad-leaved evergreens. Anti-desiccants are best sprayed if the temperature reaches 40 degrees and no precipitation is forecasted for a few days. Spray both the tops and the undersides of the leaves.

8.      Post-holiday Christmas trees and evergreen boughs can be used to mulch tender perennials and shrubs.

9.      Protect the bark of young fruit trees from hungry mice by keeping mulch several inches from the trunk or by putting wire-screen mouse guards around the trunk of the trees.

10.  Inspect ornamental trees and shrubs for scale insects. Make a note to treat any infestations with dormant oil after the temperature is above 40 degrees but before the plants leaf out.

For more information visit the UConn Home & Garden Education Center or call (877)-486-6271.

10 Tips for the November Gardener

mulchstrawberries-purdueTen Tips for the November Gardener:

1.  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.

2.  Continue to thoroughly water trees, shrubs, planting beds, lawn areas and recently planted evergreens until a hard frost. Plants should go into the winter well watered.

3. Remove any remaining fruit from fruit trees. Rake up and dispose of old leaves and debris to prevent insects and diseases from overwintering.

4.  Thoroughly clean bird feeders and fill them with birdseed. Clean birdbaths and consider a heating unit to provide fresh water throughout the winter.

5.  Cut back most perennials to 3-4 inches, but ornamental grasses, sedum, and hellebores can be left to provide winter interest.

6. Cover strawberry beds with an inch or so of straw once the ground freezes.

7. Pull stakes and plant supports. Clean them with a 10% bleach solution before storing for the winter.

8.  Protect grafted roses from winter damage by mounding 10-12 inches of soil around the base once the ground has frozen.

9. Trim existing asparagus foliage to the ground after the first hard frost and mulch beds.

10.  Pull annuals and add them to the compost pile. For annuals that self-seed, allow some seed-laden stems to remain in place.

 

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

 

Photo: Purdue Extension

10 Tips for the October Gardener

Sakata Seed America

  1. Prepare houseplants to come inside before the first frost. Scout for insects and rinse foliage and containers.
  2. Pot up tulips, hyacinths and other pre-chilled bulbs and store in a cool, dark place until ready to force. To begin pre-bloom dormancy for amaryllis, stop watering it and place in a cool, dark place.
  3. Pot up some chives and oregano to bring indoors and use all winter long. In areas not hit by frost, there is still time to harvest and dry oregano leaves.
  4. Plant bulbs: shallots and garlic for culinary use, flowering bulbs for beauty.
  5. 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. Pumpkins and winter squash should have hard rinds before being picked and stored.
  6. Renovate the lawn by thatching or aerating if needed. Keep any areas seeded in September well watered.
  7. Replace spent annuals with frost tolerant hardy mums, asters, pansies or kale.
  8. Remove plant debris from the flower and vegetable gardens. Bag any diseased plant parts and put it in the trash or take it to a landfill but do not compost.
  9. Avoid the spring rush and have your soil tested now by the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory
  10. Continue mowing the lawn until turf growth stops.

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

Photo: Jude Boucher, UConn Extension

10 Tips for the August Gardener


1.      Fertilize container plantings.

2.      Pick summer squash and zucchini every day or two to keep the plants in production.

3.      Pick up and destroy any fallen summer fruits/vegetables to reduce pests and disease for next year.

4.      Continue to stake tomatoes and allow them to ripen on the plants for the best flavor. The exception is cherry tomatoes, which are prone to splitting. Pick any ripe or almost ripe tomatoes before a rain.

5.      Renovate strawberry beds in late August.

6.      Make note of where vegetables are planted in the garden so that crops can be rotated next year.

7.      Do not add weeds with mature seed heads to the compost pile.

8.      Water fruiting shrubs such as hollies and firethorn to ensure that berries mature and don’t drop.

9.      Check hanging plants and containers daily. The wind and sun can dry them out.

10.  Reseed the lawn in late August. Be sure to keep the seed moist until germination.

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

Photo: Jude Boucher for UConn Extension

10 Tips for the April Gardener

Clemson pansies
Photo: Clemson Extension

1.     Choose planting areas based on exposure to sun, shade, wind and distance from water source.

2.     Purchase onion sets for planting and set 1 inch deep and 4 to 5 inches apart when soil can be worked.

3.     Get the jump on weeds in garden beds by pulling out any that overwinter and applying mulch.

4.     Early spring is a great time to spot spray or hand-dig dandelions. If spraying, choose a product that won’t kill grass. If digging, wait until after a rain, when soil is soft.

5.     Complete removal of diseased, weak, or crossing branches on shrubs and small trees.

6.     For an instant spring show, fill containers with purchased forced spring bulbs from supermarkets and garden centers.

7.     Celebrate Arbor Day on April 25th by planting a tree.

8.     Continue to apply horticultural oil sprays to control insect pests on fruit trees if temperature is over 40°F.

9.     Spread fertilizer under roses, apple trees and small fruits except strawberries, which are fertilized in late August.

10.  Freezing temperatures don’t harm pansies, but if they have been grown in a greenhouse they should be gradually exposed to outdoor temperatures before planting.