Archive for March, 2008

Pot-making 101

The white outside is nearly gone and we’re thinking green: green gardens, saving some green and being environmentally friendly. With help from my production assistants, Brennan and Schyler, we have a project to show that combines all three. Click the link below to watch a short how-to video.

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Say it isn’t snow!

imga0285snow.jpgWas it just a bad dream or was this really what we saw falling from the sky last night?

Go ahead, friends in sunny Arizona and balmy California, I give you full permission to gloat. Those of us in Iowa can still look on the bright side after our latest bashing of snow:

1) It’s March, not May. Let Mother Nature get this out of her system, before we get used to 70 degrees and sun. (Please, please don’t let this jinx us in May.)

2) We’re only inches away from setting a snowfall record. After the winter we’ve experienced, don’t we deserve the “I survived the snowiest winter EVER” bragging rights?

3) Drought, shmought.

4) More time for indoor spring cleaning.

5) It will all be gone by tomorrow, right?

6-10) Ok. You come up with the rest. I’m not that much of an optimist.

But just remember, those of you in warm locales, when winter weather finally does retreat in Iowa, you’ll be longing for those picture-perfect, glorious months, or weeks, or at this point, let’s at least hope for a few days of spring in Iowa.

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Battle of the plants

This information is from Master Gardeners Claire Smith and Deb Walser:

 Annuals or Perennials?  Perennials or Annuals?  It’s a question asked every spring.  I so much enjoy the zinnias and impatiens and petunias that flower so easily and beautifully all summer.  But, when I shop in the spring, do I want to pay for those annuals year after year or do I pay a little more and have perennials, those wonderful plants that sleep all winter and emerge with the warmth of spring year after year, almost all by themselves?

Now there is an advantage to annuals:  if you love the plant but dislike its location in your garden there’s no problem because it’s not going to come up next year anyway. You can buy another one in the spring and plant it elsewhere.  Perennials can be transplanted and moved, but just not as easily. 

Master Gardener, Deb Walser has this to say about Annual Flowers vs. Perennial Flowers: 

         Annual flowers need to be planted every year.  They may require continuous deadheading (removal of old flowers) to look their best.  Some annuals are self cleaning and don’t need to be deadheaded.  Most should not be planted before May 10 (Cedar Rapids predicted last frost date).  Planting before May 10 may result in freezing (death) and replacement of the plant after May 10.  They provide continuous color for most of the summer.  

        Perennial flowers are planted once. They, too, require some deadheading. Most can be planted at any time of the year. Thinning may be necessary after 3-4 years.  Different varieties bloom at different times of the summer.  A good design for beds and borders should include varieties that bloom spring, early summer, mid summer, late summer and fall for continuous color.

          It can be expensive to replant large areas each year with annuals.  Although the cost of perennials is more initially, you will only have to plant them once (God-willing).  A perennial garden supplemented with annuals is the best of both worlds.  

         Stay tuned: the Linn County Master Gardeners are planning a Garden Walk this summer.  The event is still in the planning stages, but will be a wonderful opportunity to visit several gardens with a variety of plants, flowers and shrubs and speak oneonone with Master Gardeners.  Details will follow later about this great opportunity  

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April is full of…

Gardening events! 

Here are  upcoming area events I’ve come across for April 2008. If you know of changes or additions, add a comment, or if you’re aware of events in May or future months, send me an e-mail at:

All events are free unless otherwise noted.

Tuesday, April 1 – 6:30-8 p.m., Beems Auditorium, Cedar Rapids Public Library, “Visualizing changes in your landscape,” by author Janet Macunovich, coordinated by Linn County Master Gardeners.

Tuesday, April 8 – 6:30-8 p.m., Beems Auditorium, Cedar Rapids Public Library, “Growing perennials in cold climates,” by Ambergate Gardens owner Michael Heger, coordinated by Linn County Master Gardeners.

Saturday, April 12 – Linn County Master Gardeners Creative Gardening Hands On: 10:30 a.m. to noon – Build a toad house; noon to 2 p.m. – Containers with pizzazz; 2:15-3:45 p.m. – Twig art;  all at Linn County Extension Office, 3279 Seventh Ave., Suite 140, Marion. Cost per session is $10. Call (319) 377-9839 by March 31 to register.

Saturday, April 12 – 7 p.m., Indian Creek Nature Center, “Food Matters,” by local foods farmer Laura Krouse of Cornell College, free to Iowa Academy of Science members, $3 for Nature Center members and $5 for non-members.

Sunday, April 13 – 1 p.m., Indian Creek Nature Center, “Find abundance in growing food,” by Iowa City Backyard Abundance and Food, Not Lawns. $3 for Nature Center members; $5 for non-members.

Sunday, April 13 – 2-4 p.m., Iowa City Public Library, “Proven winners – annuals that make a difference,” by Sandy Wentworth of Proven Winners Annuals, part of the Project GREEN Sunday Garden Forums.

Tuesday, April 15 – 6:30-8 p.m., Beems Auditorium, Cedar Rapids Public Library, “Beyond burning bush”, by Illinois Central College horticulture professor Glenn Herold, coordinated by Linn County Master Gardeners.

Tuesday, April 15 – 7 p.m., Coralville Library, Harshbarger Hosta Society meeting.

Saturday, April 19 – 8:30 a.m. to noon, spring restoration of tallgrass prairie at Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in West Branch. Call Adam Prato at (319) 643-7855 by Friday, April 18 to volunteer.

Saturday, April 19 – 1:30-2:30 p.m., Hy-Vee Garden Center, 5050 Edgewood Rd. NE, Cedar Rapids, “Turn your kitchen scraps into gardening gold: Composting 101” with Cathy Wyatt and Mike Duggan. Pre-register at customer service, (319) 378-0762.

Thursday, April 24 – 6 p.m., Seasonal landscape hike at Brucemore, 2160 Linden Dr., Cedar Rapids, $10 per person. Call (319) 362-7375 to register.

Saturday, April 26 – 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., first floor of Hy-Vee, 5050 Edgewood Rd. NE, Cedar Rapids, “Kids garden takeover: Plant a seed, watch it grow!” (ages 3 and up.) No registration required.


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Oak Wilt Alert

The following is from Master Gardener Gene Frye about the revised “no prune” period for Iowa oak trees: 

  ISU Extension Foresters have just expanded the recommended “no-prune” period for Iowa oak trees to extend from March 1 through October 31 in order to minimize the chances of contracting the oak wilt disease.  The previous recommendation for not pruning was from mid-March through August.

 Oak wilt, a fungus disease, is fatal to all oaks in the red oak family within one year of the onset of the first symptoms, but white oaks may live for several years, and some even recover from the disease, but with substantial damage. 

 The main method of contracting oak wilt is through pruning or other wounds made during the growing season, with the resulting sap attracting certain insects carrying the oak wilt fungus on their bodies.  These insects bore into the wound carrying the fungus spores with them. 

 The other method of spreading oak wilt is through root grafts of nearby oaks of the same species.  Root grafts allow trees to exchange body fluids, so to speak.  Since the roots of most trees extend out to about the height of the tree, trees nearer than about one hundred feet of an infected tree of the same species can also acquire the disease.  Red oaks will not root graft with white oaks. 

If oaks must be pruned during the no-prune period, for example to manage storm damage, the pruning wounds should immediately be covered with a mixture of an outside white latex paint diluted one-to-one with water.  This is one of the few circumstances in which Extension Foresters recommend use of wound dressings.

 The first symptoms of oak wilt are a general drying and falling of leaves, usually during June or July.  In the case of red oaks, the whole tree is usually affected, but on white oaks, only individual branches show symptoms the first year of infection, followed the next years by more branches being affected.

  Positive diagnosis of oak wilt requires a laboratory test, but a reasonably reliable diagnosis can be made by finding longitudinal brown streaks just underneath the bark on affected branches.  Unfortunately, there are several other ailments that can appear to be oak wilt. Oak wilt usually appears in clumps, and is not nearly as devastating as chestnut blight or Dutch elm disease.  Infestations can usually be contained by application of good management practices. 

For more detailed information on oak wilt, see Extension publication SUL 15, “Oak Wilt—Identification and Management,” which is available at County Extension Offices for $1.00 or can be downloaded free of charge on the Internet at:  

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Not so good Friday?

Good Friday, by tradition, is the day to get your potato crop planted, but with snow still on the ground, and an earlier than usual Easter, what do the experts say?

I’m not a potato farmer, but fortunately, my uncle, Craig Musel, grows some of the best potatoes around and is a State Fair  blue ribbon champ:) He also has a biting sense of humor, so when I ran the question past him, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

“I plant whatever I get in the ground,” was his first reply.  Ok. But really, Craig, are you going to get your potatoes in the ground tomorrow or not?

Maybe it’s a trade secret, because his answer was somewhat vague. Not only does tradition have people planting potatoes on Good Friday, but anything that goes underground, like potatoes, should be planted under a “dark moon,” while above-ground crops, such as watermelon, go in under a full moon. Since Good Friday is always a full moon, the alignment doesn’t make good planting sense, Craig said. Still, he has planted potatoes around this time in years past, and they grew beautifully. Northland and Cobbler are two early varieties he recommends. 

So, if Craig can get the snow off his garden in rural Chelsea, he’ll be out planting at least some of his potatoes on Good Friday. The cold shouldn’t be a problem, as long as the potatoes don’t freeze. He doesn’t think they will. But the snowstorm predicted for tomorrow might be a deterrent.

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Home lawn care

      The following is from Master Gardener Claire Smith: 

 Remember a few years ago when the TV helicopter pilot upon seeing a tornado shouted, “I see it!  I see it!”?  That’s how I felt today when I finally saw my lawn.  While all of the snow did provide a great deal of insulation and protection for our plants, I’m so glad it has finally melted.  Robins are searching for worms and squirrels are scavenging for any unburied nuts. And, on St. Patrick’s Day, I did see a bit-o-the-green peeking through.

     Oh! How I want to get to work on the lawn right now.  My goal this year is a strong turfgrass stand.  An ISU bulletin titled Home Lawn Care:  Weed Control indicates that weeds in a lawn are often a sign of a thin turfgrass stand.  (FYI, Turfgrass is defined as a spreading or stoloniferous [a horizontal branch from the base of a plant that produces new plants from buds at its tip, called a runner] grass as opposed to a tufted grass.)  Maintaining a dense turfgrass stand prevents weed infestations so: 

  • Choose the correct species of turfgrass. Kentucky bluegrass grows best in full sun.  A mixture containing fine fescues is suitable for shady areas.
  • Routine mowing will eliminate weeds with an upright growth habit.
  • Mow at a 3-3 ½” height
  • Inadequate or too frequent irrigation damages turfgrass
  • Identify weeds to determine method of removal.  A visit with your weed sample in hand to your Extension Office (in Marion at 3279 7th Ave. Ste 140, in the professional building in the strip mall next to the farm store) will provide not only an identification of the plant, but a suggested eradication plan as well.

          Weeds can be mechanically removed by pulling or digging. Chemical weed control may be your choice using an application of pre and/or postemergence herbicides.  Most herbicides selectively kill certain weeds.  A second application 7-10 days later may be necessary.  Apply preemergence herbicides in Southern Iowa around April 10th and around May 15th in the North.  A guide for crabgrass control is application of the chemical by the time the forsythia blossoms begin to drop or when the redbud trees are in full bloom. Optimum control of broadleaf weeds occurs when postemergence products are applied during the plants’ early bloom stage.  2-4-D and DSMA will control certain weeds without injuring the turf grass. Early spring applications are safer as some products vaporize and drift under high temperatures and humidity potentially damaging flowers and shrubs.       Apply when air is calm and rain is not expected for 24 hours.Use proper caution when mixing or handling any pesticide.  Most products available consist of a prepackaged mixture of two to three chemicals.  I’m off to pick up branches that are no longer frozen to the ground and watch the critters that are enjoying the advent of nicer weather as much as I am.  Happy Spring!! 

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Polar bears in a greenhouse world

 Experts in diverse Arctic issues will be on the Grinnell College campus to weigh the impact of climate change on northern communities and environments.

 Grinnell College’s Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs, International Relations, and Human Rights and the Environmental Studies Program will jointly sponsor the symposium on “Critical Issues for the Arctic,” Apr. 1-3 .  Symposium speakers will address the exacerbated effects of global warming and the adaptation of northern communities to conditions such as melting sea ice and the atmospheric transport of pollutants to the Arctic.  The symposium schedule includes:

  • Apr. 1, 4:15 p.m.: Nature writer Elizabeth Grossman, who traveled this winter through the Arctic on an ice breaker, will offer her observations of Arctic melting in “It’s All About the Ice: Climate Change and its Impact on Contaminants in the Arctic.”
  • Apr. 1, 8 p.m.: Scot Nickels, senior science adviser to the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (the national organization representing Inuit peoples across Canada), will describe the challenges that northern communities face in adapting to climate change.
  • Apr. 1, 9 p.m.: Ice Wall, an artistic work created by curator of academic and public outreach Tilly Woodward in collaboration with symposium participants (Rosenfield Courtyard)
  • Apr. 2, 4:15 p.m.:  Research scientist Donald Forbes will focus on coastal and marine issues in “Arctic Warming and Challenges for Northern Coastal Communities.” Forbes has been involved in research projects in the Canadian Arctic and Atlantic Provinces for more than a decade and was a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
  • Apr. 2, 8 p.m.:  Nikita Ovsyanikov, senior research scientist at the Russian Academy of Sciences, will describe “The Future of Polar Bears in a Greenhouse World.”  Ovsyanikov has studied polar bears in the field since 1990 and consulted on several nature documentaries.
  • Apr. 3, 11 a.m.:  The Scholars’ Convocation will be presented by Justice Thomas Berger, formerly of the Supreme Court of British Columbia. Berger’s talk “The Arctic: Whose Country Is It?” will offer an historical perspective on the development of native rights and land claims based on his work in Alaska, the Northwest Territories, and most recently, Nunavut Territory. Berger is revered in Canada as a long-standing advocate of First Nation’s rights and for his role in the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline inquiry.
  • Apr. 3, 4:15 p.m.: William Shilts, chief of the Illinois State Geological Survey, will discuss the glacial history of northern Canada and implications for current and future ecosystems in “The Glacial and Periglacial Heritage of the Nunavut Landscape.”  Shilts was previously head of the environmental geochemistry section of the Geological Survey of Canada and is considered an expert on glacier deposits.
  • Apr. 3, 8 p.m.: Research scientist Jeff Chiarenzelli of St. Lawrence University will discuss environmental justice issues in “The Legacy of Formerly Used Defense Sites on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska.” His research in Alaska and Nunavut examines the atmospheric transport of pollutants to the Arctic.

All symposium events, which are free and open to the public, will be held in the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center, Room 101, located at 1115 8th Ave. in Grinnell. 

The college adds: The greatest temperature increases resulting from global warming are recorded in the Arctic, so the Inuit people who have lived there for thousands of years will be the first forced to adapt to the changing environmental conditions with global implications.

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Luck of an Irish lass

bells-of-ireland.jpgYou can never predict what might survive the winter indoors. Before the first frost last fall, I rescued a few tiny Bells of Ireland plants that had self-seeded in my garden, along with several other plants. The Bells of Ireland survived, and even bloomed in my window at home. Though not as tall and stately as the typical flowers, it’s still nice seeing a bit o’ the green indoors.

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Greenhouse open house

An annual treat in Cedar Rapids will offer an escape from our dreary weather. The Noelridge greenhouses will be open to the public during Easter weekend,  from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. both Saturday, March 22 and Sunday, March 23.

A group called Friends of Noelridge Park, Greenhouses and Gardens, sponsored by Good Earth Garden Club, has been lending a hand at the greenhouses, in northeast Cedar Rapids.  Volunteer Coordinator Cheryl Hoech said she hopes the group keeps growing.

She had this to say: “Our motto is ‘Community growing together.’ We can always use more volunteers. Among our hopes and dreams are: build a wedding gazebo by the flower gardens; build a shade structure; plant a hosta garden; build and plant a rain garden.”

The group plans to continue supporting greenhouse staff with routine work at Noelridge and 11 other properties the staff maintains. Cheryl said tree branches in city parks need to be picked up before other maintenance can be done, a possibility for a citywide park cleanup event. Volunteers also get hungry, so people who can bring treats to them are also welcome.
The group can be reached at: 

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