10 Tips for the March Gardener

1. Make plans to attend the UConn Garden Conference on March 18, 2016.
1. Carefully remove winter mulches and leftover debris from planting beds to reduce the presence of overwintering diseases and pests.
1. Get your soil tested through the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory before any major planting or fertilizing venture. Soils sent in before April 1 will avoid the spring rush.
1. Add limestone as recommended and, if possible, incorporate into planting beds but don’t fertilize yet. Wait until mid-April.
1. 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.
1. Seeds of annual flowers and vegetables that require 10-12 weeks of growth before transplanting can be sown indoors now.
1. Plant seeds of cold weather vegetables like spinach, peas, lettuce and broccoli as soon as soil is workable.
1. Before new shoots emerge, cut back last year’s stalks on perennials and grasses.
1. 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.
1. 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.

For more information visit the UConn Home and Garden Education Center or call 866-486-6271.

Keep Phosphorus Out of Our Waters

By Dawn Pettinelli – Extension Instructor Plant Science & Landscape Architecture

Phosphorus is an essential element for plant growth and as such is a component of many fertilizers. Many may not be aware that phosphorus pollution is the number one cause of declining water quality in fresh water lakes and ponds in Connecticut and other states. Phosphorus gets into the water from several different sources including failing septic systems, fertilizer applications, erosion of phosphorus-containing soil particles, and dissolved phosphorus from plant residues.

Phosphorus…Too Much Of A Good Thing

High levels of phosphorus in soil will not harm plants in your yard but it can adversely affect aquatic systems. Phosphorus stimulates the growth of algae and other aquatic plants leading to eutrophication, or lack of oxygen, in the water. Eutrophication occurs as the algae naturally die and decompose, lowering the oxygen level in the water causing fish and shellfish to die. As a result, water quality is diminished and the use of fresh waters is often restricted for drinking, recreation, fishing and other aquatic industries. In some states, 80 percent of water bodies are so affected that they are unfit for human recreation.

Eutrophication may cause serious health risks to both humans and livestock. Algal blooms of cyanobacteria can produce cyanotoxins which are poisonous and sometimes fatal to both man and animals if shellfish contaminated with the cyanotoxin are consumed.

A soil test before you go shopping can save you money; you may not even need phosphorus, or another of other commercial soil ammendments available.

10 Tips for the September Gardener

1.      Get a jump on next year’s lawn and gardens by having a soil test done through the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory.

2.      If the pH of garden and flower beds needs to raised, wood ashes may be used. Wood ashes have a pH of 11.0 and also contain phosphorous, potassium, and calcium. Use at 1 ½ times the suggested rate of limestone. (So if 5 lbs of limestone are called for, use 7.5 lbs of wood ash).

3.      Apply fall fertilizer to lawns between Sept. 15th and Oct. 15th.

4.      Watch for frost warnings and cover tender plants to extend the season.

5.      Rake up leaves, twigs, and fruit from crabapple trees to control apple scab disease. Do not compost.

6.      Remove the pesky seedlings of woody ornamentals such as maple or elm so that they don’t take over gardens and other landscape plantings.

7.      Continue to water any new shrub or tree plantings until the first hard frost.

8.      Plant asters and chrysanthemums for fall color in the landscape.

9.      Plant/transplant peonies now. Plant the crowns to a depth of one and a half to two inches below ground level.

10.  Stop by theCornucopia Festat the UConn Storrs campus on Sunday, September 21st, from 11:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. to get answers to your gardening questions. Bring a half-cup of soil for a free pH test.

Photo: Delaware Extension

Fall Soil Testing

Fall is the best time of year for testing your garden or lawn soil. Limestone and organic amendments can be mixed into the soil now, as they need time to breakdown and be incorporated into the soil. Come spring, only a planting fertilizer will be needed and you will have the recommendations in hand. Plus, the lab is not at busy in the fall as in the springtime so your results will be sent to you quicker. Interested? To find out more, go to www.soiltest.uconn.edu

Liming Soils

by Dawn Pettinelli, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

An incredible number of chemical, biochemical and biological reactions occur in our soils. Through these reactions, nutrients, whether already present in the soil or added by fertilizers, are changed into forms that can be taken up by plant roots. The pH of the soil affects all these reactions thereby determining the availability of nutrients essential for plant growth.

Soil pH is a measure of the acidity of the soil. A pH of 7.0 is neutral with measurements below this number reflecting acidity and those above indicating alkalinity. Many native soils have a pH in the range of 4.5 to 5.5 while most of our vegetables, flowers and turf grasses prefer it to be between 6.0 and 6.8. Some notable exceptions are blueberries and broad-leaved evergreens, like rhododendrons, which require acid soils.

When the soil pH falls below 6.0, nutrients like phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium become less available to plants. Acid soils are also typically deficient in magnesium and calcium, two important plant nutrients. Another problem with acid soils is that elements like aluminum are much more soluble and may be taken up in quantities that can harm plants. On the other hand, a pH that is greater than 7.5 can also render nutrients unavailable.

Limestone is the material of choice to raise a soil’s pH. It neutralizes soil acidity while also adding necessary calcium and magnesium. Dolomitic limestone, which contains both of these elements, is most widely available and usually recommended. If the magnesium level of your soil is above optimum, a calcitic limestone which is composed mostly of calcium compounds is called for.

Limestone can be purchased in several forms with ground, pelletized and hydrated being the most common. Economically, ground limestone is your best buy but some do not like the dusty mess encountered when applying. Pelletized limestone consists of pulverized limestone that is formed into little pellets. Both take about the same amount of time to react in the soil, anywhere from 3 to 9 months depending on conditions. Hydrated lime is fast-acting but quite caustic and only warranted under specialized circumstances. Its effects on pH, however, are short-lived. Wood ashes can also be used as a liming agent at one and a half times the rate of the recommended limestone application.

How much limestone to add depends on your soil’s present pH, the desired pH, as well as the amounts of clay and organic matter in your soil. A soil test can best determine recommended amounts. Very acidic soils may require several applications to bring the pH up to a suitable level. As a guideline, for every 100 square feet apply no more than 5 to 7 pounds of limestone to the surface or 10 pounds tilled to a depth of 6 inches at one time.  Once you’ve attained a desired pH, 5 pounds of limestone per 100 square feet every other year usually will maintain that level.

For those that don’t want to guess how much limestone to apply, consider a soil test. Fall is the perfect time to test because any limestone recommended and applied will have time to start affecting the soil pH before spring planting season and, you’ll be avoiding the spring rush!  For information on soil testing, liming soils or any other home and garden question, feel free to call the UConn Home and Garden Education Center, toll-free, at 877.486.6271, visit us on the web at http://www.ladybug.uconn.edu/ or contact your local UConn Extension Office.