Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Create winter bouquets by forcing flowering branches

American Horticultural Society offers gardeners a way to enjoy flowering bouquets during the winter by forcing the branches of trees and shrubs into bloom. Some of the easiest plants to force include pussy willows (Salix spp.), flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa) and forsythias (Forsythia spp.).
To force the branches of these plants, cut them in January or February. Submerge the branches in tepid water overnight. The next day, place the branches upright in a container of water, making sure to cut off any buds from the parts of the stems below the water. Leave the branches in a cool, dimly-lit room and change the water daily until the buds start to swell. Then, move the container into a brightly-lit room and enjoy the flowers as they open.
Tree and shrub branches, like forsythia, can be easily forced
into bloom during the winter

Plants make great last-minute gifts for any occasion

Poinsettias are a common choice for gifts and decorations during the holidays, but other options are equally beautiful. University of Florida Extension suggests the following plants for winter gift-giving occasions. The ready-to-bloom Amaryllis, the low light tolernat African violet, the exotic Desert Rose (Adenium obesum) and evergreen plants, including Norfolk Island pine and a nicely shaped Rosemary topiary, make good choices.
Desert Rose (Adenium obesum)


Salt damage from Hurricane Sandy

Many East Coast residents are concerned about the potential of salt contamination from either flooding or storm surges caused by Hurricane Sandy. The University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension System reports the amount of damage done to plants will depend on the salinity of the water, how long the plants were in contact with it, and to some extent on plant species.
The best way to counteract the desiccation caused by salts is to leach them out with fresh water. Plants situated in low lying, poorly drained or heavily flooded areas are most susceptible to damage. Chances are plants in these areas will die and these areas will need to be replanted in the spring. The salts are expected to leach out over the winter. Gypsum is not especially effective in reducing salt damage except in limited circumstances.
Plants situated in low lying, poorly drained or heavily
flooded areas are most susceptible to salt damage from
Hurricane Sandy.

The People's Garden offers gardening resources

USDA's The People's Garden offers free videos and webinars to find practical garden advice. The information focuses on how to create sustainable green spaces that provide fresh fruits and vegetables, while benefiting the environment.

USDA hardiness map can help in plant selection

The 2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map can be used by gardeners, retailers, landscapers and growers to determine which plants are most likely to thrive in different locations. The map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree F zones. Users can simply type in a ZIP Code and find the hardiness zone for that area.
The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map can be used
to help select plants that will grow best in different
locations across the country.

Keep poinsettias healthy during the holidays

Poinsettias are the traditional plant used in most holiday decor to brighten seasonal displays.
Texas AgriLife Extension Service reports this popular plant can suffer during the holidays if not properly cared for.
A plant that is stressed and has not been watered correctly may get spots or blotches on its lower leaves. Water the plants only when the soil feels dry.
Keep poinsettias indoors if the temperatures are going to be belowr 60-70 degrees F. A cold poinsettia will turn yellow and drop its leaves.
Fertilize poinsettias after the holidays if you want to try to keep them alive.
It doesn't take much to keep poinsettias looking good through the holidays.

Buying local can help reduce food waste

The Natural Resources Defense Council reports that of all the food grown in the United States, up to 40 percent is lost getting it from the farm to our fork. Michigan State University Extension offers some steps consumers can take at home to reduce food waste.

Follow the three Rs of recycling: reduce, reuse and recycle (compost). Reduce waste by buying only what is necessary; buying locally reduces the number of phases some fresh foods go through.

Another option is to purchase only what your family can consume in a reasonable time or by the food’s expiration date. Buying in bulk can save you money, but not if you wind up throwing half of it away because it spoiled before you could use it.

Reuse scraps by making stocks and soups. Plan in advance how to use or preserve leftovers.
Developing food waste reduction habits and composting
can reduce food waste,  save money, conserve resources
and produce a valuable soil additive for your garden.


Choose disease-resistant plants for your landscape

Purdue University Extension suggests one of the best ways to prevent serious plant disease outbreaks is by choosing disease-resistant plants. Using healthy, disease-resistant plants in the garden or landscape minimizes, or even eliminates, the need for pesticides and reduces maintenance.
By using plant species, varieties or cultivars that are genetically resistant to diseases, buyers immediately implement the most effective and sustainable means of plant disease control in the landscape. Although most plants do not have resistance to many common diseases, incorporating disease-resistant plants in the landscape whenever possible minimizes the impact of certain diseases in the home landscape and potentially reduces pesticide use.

In addition to disease resistance, it is important to remember that proper cultural techniques will help prevent powdery mildew, rust and leaf spots.
Phlox paniculata ‘David’, a Perennial Plant Association
Plant of the Year, has good resistance to powdery mildew.



Consider using plant lights during winter

Growing plants indoors during the winter can be fun and therapeutic. In many parts of the country the natural light levels are low enough that supplemental lighting is usually required to successfully grow plants indoors.

Before investing in lights, Michigan State University Extension suggests that you look at what it will cost to run the lights during the winter. First look at the rate you pay for electricity. This can be found on your bill and is expressed in cents per kWhr (kilowatt hour). This is the basic rate, but look for additional costs such as PSCR renewable energy, system access distribution, energy efficiency and securization charges and a securization tax.

You will also need information about the light fixtures, specifically the wattage of the bulbs. For example, you may be planning to install two, 4-foot fluorescent fixtures that contain two 40 watt grow lights each. The total wattage is 160 (four bulbs x 40 watts). Since you are charged for using kilowatts, divide 160 by 1,000 and multiple by your electric rate. The result is the cost to run the lights for one hour. Multiply the operating cost by the number of hours you plan to run the lights (14 hours) to find out your daily cost.
Supplemental lighting is usually required to successfully
grow plants indoors during the dark days of winter.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Don't forget to recycle holiday greenery

Discarded holiday greenery can be used to provide food and cover for wildlife or chipped into mulch for landscape protection. Christmas trees and garland can be recycled to provide cover for winter birds.

Trees can also be recycled for mulch around your landscape. Smaller branches should be chopped or ground for wood chips for use in flower, tree and shrub beds. Larger branches can be cut into smaller bundles for winter protective mulch around newly planted perennials and small shrubs. These branches should be removed in the spring as the plants begin to grow again.
Many communities offer pick-up or drop-off services for discarded holiday trees. The trees are usually chipped for use as mulch in parks and other city properties. Some cities offer the wood chips to their citizens for use in their own yards.

Many communities chip Christmas trees for use as mulch in
parks and other city landscapes. Some cities offer wood chips
to their citizens for use in their own yards.