Posts tagged conifers

The gardening itch

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

 

     OH!  I had an itch I couldn’t scratch the other day.  And, it occurred two days in a row! The weather was so beautiful!  I wanted so badly to scratch in the snow and dirt to just take a tiny little peek into the flower beds.  I don’t really know what I expected to find.  But I was so curious.  I strolled around the yard. It was like the second day of my latest diet:  can I resist the urge?!   I did resist though not wanting to disrupt the protection the melting mulch provides.  But, then, lo and behold!  A seed catalog arrived in my mail box.  Now how do the seed companies know when to provide a positive reinforcement that spring is just around the corner!

     January is a perfect time of the year to plan gardens.  Measurements will help determine the number of plants needed.  Check the Iowa State University Extension Service web site for gardening information.    Share photos at your favorite garden center.  Ask lots and lots of questions.  Gardeners are nearly always willing to offer advice and knowledge.    One of the most difficult decisions for me in purchasing new plants is color combinations that will provide attractive contrasts.   I relate to a statement, “nature doesn’t create bad color combinations, we do” in an Iowa State Horticulture and Home Pest News publication entitled “Color for Winter Landscapes throughout the Year”.  The article promotes color and interest in conifers but I found it intriguing in the combinations of colors suggested. 

     An absolute must have for a source for color combinations is the 2009 Iowa State University Extension Service calendar available for $6.00 at the Linn County Office in Marion (or mailed to you for $8.00).  Each month features dramatic photos in a different color for each month with lists of annuals, perennials and woody plant selections in the color of the month. The final two pages share a wealth of design information.  And, the back cover provides numerous Horticulture publications and resource contacts.  It is one of the most informative calendars around. 

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Suffocating conifers

The following is by Mark Gleason, plant pathologist at Iowa State University Extension:

 

    The 2008 growing season was a bad time to be a conifer in Iowa. The Iowa State University Plant and Diagnostic Clinic was inundated with suffering conifers from windbreaks, commercial landscapes, and backyards. What happened?

    Rain is what happened: too much of it. The six months from January through June saw record rainfall totals in Iowa – the most since record-keeping began in the 1850s. Late May through mid-June was especially sodden, as much of the state saw damaging floods. The result was wet soils, week after week.

    What’s wrong with lots of water in the soil? After all, trees need plenty of water to stay healthy. But 2008 was a case of too much of a good thing.

During the seemingly endless rains of May and June, soils in much of the state became saturated with water – and stayed that way. Even when trees weren’t engulfed in floods or giant puddles, they were rooted in sodden soil.

   When soil is saturated, the normally air-filled spaces become water-filled instead. This profoundly changes the roots’ environment. Roots get almost all their oxygen by absorbing it from the soil, and the soil oxygen is replenished from the atmosphere.

    Once soil water replaces soil air, the ballgame changes. Water carries only a tiny fraction of the oxygen found in the air. In prolonged periods of saturation, that smidgen of oxygen is further siphoned off by soil microorganisms. Faced with oxygen starvation, roots begin to slow their activity.

    Tree roots, like people, go into distress pretty rapidly when their oxygen is cut off.
    In extreme cases like 2008, the roots can die. The first roots to bite the dust (or mud) are the ones that work the hardest: the tiny roots that do most of the work absorbing water and nutrients from the soil. As a last gasp, some roots start making their own alcohol; this can be a fatal goodbye party, since alcohol also poisons the roots.

    Damage to conifers was extremely varied. Common symptoms included dead branch tips, yellowed needles, top dieback, and dieback of scattered branches. Some fungal diseases were stimulated by all the rain, too, but the vast majority of the conifer problems had a physical cause – root damage due to low-oxygen stress.

    Often, the problems showed up in late July or August, even though the worst of the wet spell was long gone. Why the delay? A tree can tolerate some level of root damage. But in warm, dry spells in mid- to late summer, trees call for water to stay cool. If the roots are damaged, the tree can’t take up water fast enough to avoid overheating, and the foliage overheats. So spring’s root damage became summer’s fried foliage.

    How come conifers got nailed worse than broad-leaved trees? Most conifers hate wet feet, and the longer the soil stays saturated, the worse they do. At the ISU Clinic, we saw hundreds of samples and photographs of damaged blue and Black Hills spruce, white fir, arbor vitae, and other species.

    On the hopeful side, most of these damaged conifers are not at death’s door. For many, the prospects of eventual recovery are good – as long as the weather cooperates a bit. Meanwhile, avoid the temptation to help nature along by fertilizing, since you are likely to harm rather than help the tree’s recovery. Watering should be done only when the soil is dry, and should add only one inch of water (rain included) per week.

    With luck and patience, 2009 will return us to green conifers instead of brown ones.

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Garden walk

From Linn County Master Gardener Claire Smith: Hi again – I promised to give you more info on the gardens that are being showcased in the Master Gardener Garden Walk.

 

First, though, a quick review of the Garden Walk info – Saturday, June 14, 2008; 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. – $5 per person, $10 per family.  Five diverse gardens.  Either go to www.extension.iastate.edu/linn for info and a map, or call the Hortline at 319-447-0647.

 

The Ortberg, Skripsky, and Weiss gardens are pretty close to each other on the southeast side.  I covered the first two last week, and we’ll start with the Weiss gardens this week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Weiss Gardens – 4255 Beaver Hollow SE, Cedar Rapids

Talk about Hills!  This beautiful, cottage style home sits on a medium to steep hill in a forested area – about an acre.  The home of Master Gardener Kevin Weiss, this challenging landscape qualifies him as an expert in hillside techniques.  The front is a medium slope, and with limestone steps, urns, and terraced beds, they provide an elegant entrance to the home.  The back yard is 75 percent steep hill, with limestone slabs and containers dispersed up the hill and with a magnificent rushing stream/falls that land in a pond.  The landscaping provides the effect of a garden portrait that causes one to gasp with delight.

 

The Walser Gardens – 3934 Falbrook Dr. NE, Cedar Rapids

Deb Walser is well known as one of the “Voices” of the WMT Master Gardener Radio spot.  She is a wealth of information ranging across ALL types of plants and gardening.  Her gardens near Kennedy High School show that expertise on an odd shaped, sloping urban lot.  Her beds will dazzle you with their range of plants and settings with raised vegetable beds, annuals, perennials, and fruits.  She has used her space to great effect with multiple decks and boardwalks that lead you from one type of garden style to another.  As she says, “Amazing what can be done on your own!”

 

The Hennessey Gardens – 5524 Cimarron Court, Marion

 

Darrell Hennessey is known in Master Gardener circles as “Mr. Conifer.”  His acreage in Marion has magnificent sprawling conifer beds that  provide a backdrop for 14 flower beds.  But the true centerpiece must be the conifers – in all shapes and sizes, arranged in beds on a property that is vast enough to showcase them beautifully.  If you’re interested in learning more about conifers and how to choose them for your property, this garden is a must!  Darrell is also refining his beds for lower ongoing maintenance, and he and other Master Gardeners will be happy to share ideas to help you accomplish the same thing.

 

There you go – the line-up for Saturday, June 14.  Hope you can join us for a beautiful garden day!

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