Posts tagged Claire Smith

Rain: Too much of a good thing

The following is by Linn County Master Gardener, Claire Smith:

     He was correct.  A climatologist said July was going to be wetter and colder than normal.  Did you imagine we’d be wearing jackets and sweatshirts on mid-summer mornings?  A couple of my houseplants living on the deck for the summer got relocated under the eaves.  They were experiencing a little too much of a good (rain water) thing.  It has been nice not having to drag hoses or fill the water wagon as much this year.  The soaker hose has been pretty much dormant, too. 

    It does bother me letting all this precious water run off, though.  Rain barrels have become a popular efficient way to retain that wonderful commodity that Mother Nature provides. Rain barrels don’t need to be plugged in or powered up.  They’re good for the environment and save money. 

    Rain water is preferably to municipal water for gardens because it provides a beneficial pH balance, thus creating less of a need for fertilizer. 

     Rain barrels situated at the base of a gutter or downspout, are typically modified recycled 55 gallon food grade drums, and include a filter, spigot and with an overflow pipe usually directed  on to a flower or vegetable bed.  Commercial rain barrels are available with costs varying.   Rain chains, water-funneling devices, can be used in place of down spouts for an esthetic effect.  Maybe you would want a decorative rain barrel situated on either side of your patio door. 

     Rain barrels may provide a good source of water should we have a water restriction order.  While the primary use is plant associated, rain water can be used to wash a car, scrub patio furniture or even flush a toilet. 

     Rain barrels do require minimal maintenance.  Leaves and other debris have to be removed from the filter and the gutter supplying the water.  Also, users need to guard against mosquito breeding and algae.  All in all helping  the environment far outweighs a bit of inconvenience.

    And, speaking of mosquitoes, just a reminder with all of the moisture we’re experiencing, the most common floodwater mosquito will be laying eggs in any source of stagnant or muddy water.  Remember to regularly empty and clean the kids’ wading pools, the pet’s water dishes and the bird bath.  Tall weeds and grasses harbor mosquitoes during the day.  Reduce the incidence of the problem and reduce the population of the annoying and possible disease carrying critters.

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Mini garden walk

The following is by Linn County Master Gardener, Claire Smith:

What a great idea, visiting other people’s gardens! Amazing!  Awesome!  (and, with planning) Affordable!    If you were gadding around and missed the Master Gardeners’ Garden Walk or if you didn’t take the plunge for the Pond Society tour, do make a concerted effort to mark your 2010 calendar to attend both! One of the stops incorporated all manner of garden art, mostly primitive farm equipment and several unusual birdhouses.  The other end of the spectrum was a beautiful English garden.  Ponds fed by babbling brooks created mesmerizing atmospheres. 

                My neighbors have even planned a mini-garden walk involving just a few families.  It’s an opportunity to get better acquainted with your neighbors and visit about something besides the weather.  It’s too late for a vegetable garden this summer, but there’s still time to start a flower garden involving the whole family.  My favorite daughter’s second garden is a family affair reaping benefits far out weighing the harvest of peas and pumpkins.   Charlie has beans on his beanstalk (Two year old Charlie planted a good share of an envelope of beans in one hill.)  Catie is planning on several jack-o-lanterns.    Daddy grills home grown potatoes, tomatoes and onions.  

The long range forecast for July is cooler and wetter weather so get in sync with Mother Nature and go for it.  New beds do need to be religiously watered this time of the year to establish root systems.  It’s okay to fertilize from now through the end of August.  Your new garden needn’t be huge.  It can be containers on the porch.  If the kids are still bugging about a pet, put in a pond and get some goldfish.  The fish we saw at the walks were huge and survived there through the winter.  Your water feature could be a whiskey barrel size container adjacent to the deck. 

Now is a good time, too, to do some rearranging.  We didn’t get the new strawberry bed organized quite soon enough this summer so I’m going to remove the weeds that have sprouted and cover the bed with mulch.  I’ll soon be transplanting several Iris and a few Hosta over to the seeder wagon area. Some of the Tiger Lilies are moving from the ditch there to surround the mailbox in the newest zeroscape area.  A horse ate the top off the sapling in that bed.   I’ll need to install a taller barrier than the garden gate that I thought was such a nifty idea.  Oh, well, the garden gate can become home to a climber in another location.  That’s the great thing about plants and gardens.  Nearly everything is portable and/or potable.

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The deadly juglone of black walnut trees

The following is by Linn County Master Gardener, Claire Smith:

    The seeder wagon is in place.  The lawn mower towed it out of the shed down to the water way and then with two planks and my favorite son’s strong back we pushed and pulled it to the other side of the ditch.  With the addition of an old wire garden gate staked behind a sapling, a hand pump from my parent’s former home and a rock lined pseudo fire pit filled with Petunias that were on the end-of-season sale, the area reflects the peaceful primitive atmosphere I was striving for.  This is the area I mentioned in an earlier blog that became inaccessible to mow due to last year’s flood.  Hosta, native grasses and prairie perennials will grace the space next year.  We continued our zeroscaping to include a part of the road ditch that I learned is also impossible to mow after the mower and I suffered a close encounter with the culvert.  Now that waterway is filled with large rocks and what was a sloping grassy space is mulched. 

            Hosta will ring the two Black Walnut trees in the roadway ditch.  Hosta is a plant of choice there because I have some that need transplanting and they are not sensitive to Juglone, a chemical secretion from Black Walnut Trees. 

             Discovered in the 1880s, Juglone is produced in the fruit, leaves, branches and root system of several trees with Black Walnuts exhibiting the highest concentration.  The greatest intensity in the soil exists within the tree’s drip line, on an average 50 ft. radius from the trunk of a mature tree.  Plants susceptible to Juglone display yellowing leaves, wilting and eventual death.  Plants sensitive to Juglone include Peonies, Hydrangea, Asian Lilies, and Lilacs.  There are multiple choices that will withstand close proximity to Walnut trees such as most grasses, Phlox, Sedum, Daylilies, Iris and Hosta.

            Now my challenge is to determine plants that are not only resistant to Juglone, but also to the deer population in this neighborhood.  Unfortunately, Hosta is one of the critters’ favorite choices.  They have already decimated the Hosta and Bee Balm in the ditch on the other side of the lane.  A great winter  pastime will be comparison shopping perennials and grasses that are both deer and Juglone resistant as well as low maintenance for those landscapes. 

             I actually enjoy mowing.  And I like the challenge of creating and maintaining flower beds, but the  simple clean lines of zeroscaping does appeal to me.  A few plants and shrubs easily embellish the area without overstating the purpose of low maintenance.

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Digging up dirt

Linn County Master Gardener Claire Smith shares the following about becoming a master gardener:    

       Do you like getting your hands dirty and your feet wet?  How about digging up dirt?  Would you wholeheartedly grovel in the ground with new friends?  Are you inquisitive about things flora? Have you ever considered becoming a Master Gardener?  From experience, I can say, it’s a great experience.  What better way to get in touch with nature than through an educational opportunity provided by Iowa State University Extension’s Master Gardener program and an opportunity to make new friends who willingly share their expertise.  The enrollment process is not daunting! If you can demonstrate that you know a little something about gardening; you are enthusiastic about acquiring new knowledge; and would eagerly commit to some volunteerism and community betterment, then this program is for you. Sure, some of the Linn County Master Gardeners can spew verbiage about hundreds of issues.  Some of us, though, still need to ask questions and do the research.  But gardeners of any type and especially Master Gardeners love to share.  In fact, our mission statement says, “the purpose of the Master Gardener program is to provide current, research-based home horticultural information and education to the citizens of Iowa through ISU Extension programs and projects.”

                What do Master Gardeners do in addition to enjoying their personal gardening passions?

Imagine helping create a children’s garden at Lowe Park in Marion.  Learn how fabulous gardens are created by assisting at the annual Garden Walk.  Contribute some time at the Winter Gardening Fair where there are outstanding keynote speakers and the opportunity to choose from dozens of classes.  Lead or scribe on the Horticulture Line to research answers to any number of telephone and walk in questions.  Have privy to updates provided directly to you by ISU plus receive an informative monthly newsletter created by Linn County Master Gardeners.

                Applications and further information are available at http://www.mastergardener.iastate.edu or call the Linn County Extension Office at 319-377-9839. Please note that the application and fee are due by Friday, July 17th.  Visit the website at www.extension.iastate.edu/linn .  Selecting “Yard and Garden” will bring a menu of articles and information about the Master Gardener program.   Go ahead, talk to any Master Gardener.  They’ll tell you to try it:  you’ll like it!

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Long-lasting flowers

    The following is by Linn County Master Gardener, Claire Smith: Early in the spring we took Mom lilacs.  The wonderful scent wafted all the way down the hall in her apartment building.   The next week apple blossoms popped out to mix with more lilacs.  A bouquet of iris followed a couple of weeks later.  Iris don’t exhibit a pungent aroma, but the double blossoms are stunning.  Last week we took peonies.  There’s no escaping that fragrance! Mom loves having admiring visitors just follow their noses to her living room.  

      Have you ever picked a bouquet of flowers only to have them wilt within hours?   Cut the stem at an angle with a sharp knife or garden scissors. Choose fresh blooms as they’ll last longest.  Try a preservative. There are some non-commercial preservatives you can use to maintain healthy and happy blossoms.  Flowers need sugar for survival and growth as well as disinfectants to inhibit fungi and bacteria growth.  One tablespoon of sugar with ¼ tsp. of bleach mixed in a vase full of water is a good home remedy.    ¼ tsp. of citric acid (available in drug stores) per one gallon of water is another option.  Keep the vase filled with fresh water. Avoid using chemically softened water or extremely hot or cold water.  Shun direct sunlight and direct heat, i.e.  keep the vase off the top of the refrigerator and T.V.  A challenge at my house is keeping vases away from the cats who view fresh greenery as a delicacy, to be gobbled up and then regurgitated.  An upside down plastic berry basket in your bowl or vase will aid in holding the flower arrangement in place if you don’t have a flower frog handy. 

         Two year old Charlie feels he’s Great Grandma’s designated flower delivery man.  Our quest there is keeping the vase upright so we don’t leave a trail of water all the way down the hall.  But, no matter how flowers get to their destinations, fresh cut, home grown bouquets are almost as good as a tomato plucked fresh from the vine or a box of chocolate covered cherries.

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Gardening addiction

The following is by Linn County Master Gardener Claire Smith:

                 Over the road and across the highway to the garden center I go.  The car knows the way, never to stray………………..   I told myself I already have enough plants for this year.  Can gardening be addictive?  Unfortunately I read somewhere that June is the time to walk around the yard looking for bare spots or drab areas that could use a little sprucing up with annuals.  And June is still prime time for planting annuals whose duty is to mask those early blooming perennials and waning spring bulbs.   I‘m going scoot out of here early in the day, returning quickly and maybe nobody will notice.  Morning is the best time to plant anyway, ahead of the hot daytime sun.  Nobody will discern me watering the new plantings daily because the hanging baskets get a drink daily and the container plants every other day. My potting soil didn’t have fertilizer in it, so I’m going to try a starter solution of fertilizer when I introduce these new plants into the landscape.               The next task is weeding, also a morning chore.  It keeps me out of the hot daytime sun.  Do you agree that weeding is a bother?  Not many folks enjoy it.  Pesticides limit weeds but also discourage bees, butterflies and birds.  Our Creeping Charlie is so aggressive. Hopefully, a pesticide will slow its pace, but a layer of hardwood mulch is an alternative to commercial weed killers. 

          Grooming beds certainly dresses them up.  Deadheading, –  removing fading flowers –  improves a plant’s appearance and encourages continual bloom.  I bought a pair of good garden shears this spring. They sure make a clean cut. I’ll remove the flower buds or flowering stem back to the first set of leaves.

                Participating in an exercise class several times each week keeps my doctor happy, but playing in the dirt is certainly therapeutic.  The dog and I and sometimes a cat or two could just spend hours and hours in the gardens.  Flower or vegetable gardens each create a soothing no worry-be happy atmosphere.

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Critters in the garden

Linn County Master Gardener, Claire Smith, wrote the following: The driver of the car at the stop light next to me looked rather aghast when I broke into a hearty laugh this morning.  I guess some radio and TV facts are just meant to be light hearted even though reported in a most serious manner, for example, the obnoxious little black flies that are so prevalent this spring are called buffalo gnats.  Do you know why?   Because they have a hump in their back.  With no disrespect intended to those folks who study insects, that “need-to-know” fact really struck my funny bone.

Not so funny is in the onslaught of beetles again this year.  Just a reminder, do not spray edible plants to rid the beetles.  Traps seem fairly effective.  The traps do attract the little critters in addition to killing them so it is suggested you locate traps at the ends of your property.

The ugly tunnels in your lawn are probably mole trails.  Another little known fact is that moles eat more than their own weight in worms daily.  Worms are good for the soil.  They constantly aerate the earth.  Keep the worms; eradicate the moles.  The most practical method of eviction is a scissor or harpoon type trap.  Locate the active tunnel by tamping down all of the tunnels.   Place the trap in the one the mole reopens. 

And then there are the garden invaders, the ground hogs, rabbits and raccoons.  Probably the best offense against them is a good fence. Hardware cloth or wire mesh should be at least 1½ to 2 ft. tall supported with wood or metal stakes.   Bury the fence into the ground a bit or secure it down with landscape pins.  Repellents are somewhat effective, but more costly as they need to be reapplied after each heavy rain. You could consider live traps, but the last time we tried live traps, an opossum was smarter than we were. We did capture two cats, though. 

And, finally, Oh! Deer!  It is best to discourage deer before they become accustomed to the delicacies in your garden or yard.  The most reliable deer prevention maintenance is a fence.  However, a deer proof fence will be at least eight feet tall which can be a costly venture, be aesthetically unattractive, and possible prohibited by local building codes.  Repellents and scare tactics are ineffective as deer ignore them.  Try temporary fences around new plants and special plants.  Deer may force you to choose plants that are less tasty to them, have an unusual texture, or a strong aroma.  Call your local extension office (in Linn County 447-0647) for a list of deer resistant plants.  Perhaps impractical in some cases, a good dog will be as efficient as anything else you might try.

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Mixing pets and plants

The following is by Linn County Master Gardener, Claire Smith:

    So the kids talked you into getting a dog.  But you want to keep your lawn attractive.  With planning, it is possible to mix pets and plants. Perhaps container gardening is the answer for your flowers.

            If a kennel and run is not in your vision, design a cobblestone or decorative pebble area in an interesting shape with some large rocks then train your dog to use only that area. Good drainage is a necessity.  Diluting urine will help eliminate yellow spots in the lawn.  Wherever you choose to let the dog urinate, hose that area thoroughly and routinely.  Raised beds are functional, easy to work in, and will control urination on the gardens. 

            Select sturdy plants.  Coneflowers and Liatris are good possibilities.  One poke from a thorny plant will deter your pet.  Barberry Bushes have showy purple, gold or variegated foliage and outstanding fall color.  Viburnum flowers in spring and exhibits flashy fall color.  Flowering trees will provide above ground level color.  If you’re absolutely in love with a fragile looking delicate plant, put it in a hanging basket or an elevated planter.  If you plan to use evergreen shrubs, note that squirrels, chipmunks, and other small critters may move in around them creating potential for altercations and injury between the wildlife and your pet.

            Puppies are inquisitive, and plants like Hollyberry, English Ivy, and Yews are poisonous.  If you question a plant’s toxicity, inquire at your local extension office, Master Gardener Hort. Line (319-447-0647), or your veterinarian before purchasing it. 

            Whether you’re gardening for pets, wildlife or the environment, it’s a good idea to limit the use of chemicals.  A pesticide with a taste attractive to insects may also be attractive to your pet.  Read the label directions thoroughly: look for pet safe. 

            The safest mulch for your pet is leaves and cut grasses.  Mow, bag, and use generously.  Even if Rover investigates what’s under the mulch, he can’t hurt himself by ingesting a chemical.  Plus, you’re not feeding the landfill.

            Just as kids need discipline, pets can learn respect for plants and lawns, too.  Spend some time and effort learning the ropes together.  With effort, and a good pooper-scooper, it is possible for flora and fauna to coexist.

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Garden experimentation

   The following is by Linn County Master Gardener, Claire Smith: My daughter’s garden is going to amount to a hill of beans.  Her first family garden last year was so much fun that they planted another.  Michelle dug a hole for a tomato and as she picked up the  plant, two year old Charlie dumped a half package of green beans in the hole and then proceeded to cover the seeds with his yellow plastic rake, “Back and forth, Gramma, back and forth”.  No problem, we’ll just use a trellis and enjoy Charlie and his beanstalk.  Catie was a big help, too.  She labeled a stake for both ends of the rows so we’ll be sure to know what we planted.  FYI, the rows are all of ten feet long.  Watering the seeds daily until they germinate hasn’t been a problem as long as no one minds that Charlie can turn on the spigot and water himself, Catie, and the neighbor’s dog.  We’re waiting to mulch the plants until they sprout in an effort to keep Charlie off the rows. With limited garden space, they’re experimenting with a hanging container cherry tomato plant. The container will probably require watering daily, allowing the water to run through the container. 

   Charlie helped us plant Hosta in their back yard this week.  The family is renovating the yard so some landscaping is in order. Their home is nestled on a hill surrounded by mature trees.  We planted several Hostas between a retaining wall and a tree where they will enjoy speckled sunlight.  Hosta prefers a rich organic soil, but they will grow in about anything.  We have access to aged horse manure to augment the soil and topped that, of course, with hardwood mulch. 

   Michelle plans to alternate Day Lilies and Iris in a sunny spot in front of the house.  Both are perennials preferring full sun and fertile, well drained soil, but once established will tolerate drought.  The latter makes them a good choice for a busy working Mom with two equally busy youngsters.

   Annuals will supplement other spaces.  Petunias, Snapdragons and Salvia are sun lovers.  Impatiens are shade/part shade lovers.  All are easy keepers.

    Eventually there will be shrubs and other flowering perennials.  Michelle and her family are having such a good time experimenting with what works and what doesn’t with both their vegetable and flower gardens.  And that’s what gardening should be about:  family and fun!

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Ash trees, anthracnose and Emerald Ash Borer

Linn County Master Gardener, Claire Smith, shares the following about anthracnose and Emerald Ash Borer:

    Anthracnose – big word, hard to wrap your tongue around.  Anthracnose is a common foliage disease of shade trees in Iowa, including the ash tree.  Multiple inquiries to the Master Garden Hort-Line this morning were from folks whose ash trees were dropping leaves, an unusual occurrence in the spring.  A good guess would indicate that most of those folks were concerned that their wonderful ash tree had become infested with the Emerald Ash Borer.   Be aware that experts are seeing if the Emerald Ash Borer has invaded Iowa by crossing the river into the Northeastern portion of the state.

    A bit about each of these diseases: 

    Ash trees can be infested with anthracnose that is caused by a fungus.  There are a number of closely related fungi, but each is host specific to the tree it infects.  Often symptoms appear serious, but generally the damage caused is minimal and doesn’t seriously affect mature shade trees.  Symptoms include tan to black blotches; immature leaves becoming distorted from abnormal leaf expansion; young leaves dying and falling soon after a heavy infection.  If a severe infection does occur early in the growing season, the trees may defoliate and then a new set of leaves may emerge.  Following are some suggestions to decrease the severity of anthracnose and minimize its impact on your tree’s health:

–          Clean up and destroy fallen leaves:  use your lawn mower bagger

–          Prune the tree to remove diseased branches and properly dispose of them.

–          Prune to open the canopy for better air circulation. Fungi relish damp conditions. Pruning is generally not recommended now, but better to prune than lose the tree.

     The Emerald Ash Borer prefers Green Ash and Black Ash Trees, but will tackle any ash when the previous two mentioned have all been killed.  The borers emerge from early spring to late summer, but evidence may not be visible for up to a year.  Signs of infestation are D-shaped holes in the bark of the trunk and branches and shoots growing from the base of the tree which is the most telltale sign.  The beetle will effectively girdle the tree.  

Following are some suggestions to help reduce infestation and impact of the Emerald Ash Borer:     

–          Avoid planting ash trees

–          Learn the signs and symptoms of the Emerald Ash Borer

–          If camping, purchase firewood at or near the campsite but thoroughly inspect firewood prior to purchase

–          Do not bring extra firewood home with you.

     Maintaining a healthy environment for your trees and plants is of utmost importance.  A routine inspection of your yard and garden is necessary.  Discuss abnormalities with your local extension service, Master Gardeners, or a reputable garden center.  Pictures or actual plant samples are wonderful aids in diagnosing problems. 

REMEMBER THE LINN COUNTY MASTER GARDENER PLANT SALE THIS SATURDAY, MAY 16TH FROM 8:00 TO NOON IN THE EXTENSION OFFICE PARKING LOT AT 3279 7TH AVE. IN MARION.

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