Posts tagged horticulture hotline

Hortline education


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


  I’m having my first experience today as a scribe for the Master Gardener, answering questions for our Horticulture Hotline.  We received a plethora of questions, for example, “Can I still spray for weeds now?”  and “Explain what my soil test results mean and “How do I get grass to grow under my Linden tree?”  What an intriguing and educational two hours it was!  From 10:00 to Noon Monday through Friday (winter hours/hours extended to morning and afternoon in the summer) you can speak personally with a Master Gardener at the Extension Office or call the Hort. Line at 319-447-0647, visit about any gardening question and hear a research based answer. 

Now that we‘ve had a good hard frost, we’re going back to Central Standard Time and the lawn mower is stashed away, what are you going to do?  Well, I just bought my 2009 planner and my first notation is jotting down the date of the Master Gardeners’ Winter Gardening Fair scheduled for Saturday, February 7, 2009 at the beautiful new Kirkwood Center for Continuing Education.  You and your friends and family can spend the day at gardening classes of your choosing plus listen to an outstanding keynote address by landscape designer and author Janet Macunovich presenting Continuous Color in the Landscape.  Your registration fee includes your session classes, Janet’s energetic and practical presentation AND lunch!  More information will be available in December with the registration deadline in January.  Plan to attend!

The Iowa State University Extension 2009 Garden Calendar is available.  This large calendar provides eight timely gardening hints each month in addition to wonderful pictures.   It’s available for a nominal fee at the Linn County Extension Office at 3279 7th Ave. in Marion.  

A Master Gardener offered up a great organizational hint today and one my grandkids could be involved in:  she’s putting up a peg board in her garage and hanging up all of the tools. (This is where the kids come in), she (or the kids) will draw around each tool with paint so she will know where each tool should be and which ones weren’t put away properly.  Can you imagine how Catie and Charlie could be all over Daddy about keeping the garage neat and orderly? 






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Your gardening questions


Master Gardener Claire Smith answers three common gardening questions:


·         What’s the easiest way to keep weeds and grass from my flower bed?

Mulch!  It conserves moisture, adds nutrients, increases esthetic appeal and reduces the possibility of diseases by preventing water from splattering on leaves.  It’s affordable, easy to install, and readily available.  

Choices range from wood chips to sawdust, manure with sawdust, and straw to leaves to layers of newspapers to crushed rock.  Wood chips vary in composition and are purchased at local garden centers.   Sawdust should be spread thinly to prevent compacting.  Leaves are a good choice, especially if composted.  Manure or manure with sawdust might be found free from a local farmer.  While a great amendment, a word of caution, it may contain hay or straw with weed seeds.  This would be a do-it-yourself project, so plan to provide your own containers and shovel and be prepared for an odiferous ride home if you have an SUV.  Recycle your newspaper with 6-8 sheet deep layers. Crushed rock adds texture and color but removing it in the future may be difficult.

·         How can a person recondition or improve the soil in flower gardens?

Eliminate guesswork!  Perform a soil test now. It is difficult to improve the soil after you’ve commenced planting.  Call the Linn County Horticulture Hotline for information about obtaining a sample kit.  Add organic matter (compost, well-rotted manure or peat moss) to improve drainage in clay soil and water-holding capacity in sandy soil.  A rule of thumb is to add 2-4” into 6-12” of soil.  Watch for earthworms as one indication of healthy soil. They provide aeration and add fertilizer with their waste. 

·         How deep should you plant bulbs? 

Bulbs should generally be planted at a depth of two to three times the height of the bulb, i.e. a one inch bulb should be planted 2-3” deep.  Space bulbs 2-3 times their diameter apart.  Lightly tamp the soil to remove air pockets, then water thoroughly to settle the soil.   Always read planting labels 

Call the Linn County Horticulture Hotline at 319-447-0647 with your questions. 


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“More winter than we need”

    This post is from Linn County Master Gardener Claire Smith:

     Is there consolation in that the big snow storm of ’93 was in April when it is supposed to be spring and at least this blizzard is in February during the official winter season?  While I enjoy winter most years, I agree with Mr. Wilson’s observation in Dennis the Menace recently, “There seems to be more winter than we need this year.”  The Plugger comment adjacent says it all: A plugger lifts his winter blues with thoughts of spring green as he opens his mail box and remarks, “Hot Dog!  The new seed catalog is here!” 

   An article in Sunday’s (Feb. 3) Gazette provided seed catalog suggestions.  Following is an article written by Master Gardener; Thea Cole entitled “Planning My Cutting Garden.”  Thea has some excellent suggestions for seed catalogs, too.   Thea says, Spring is just around the corner; soon, I’ll walk in my blooming garden and gets my hands in the warm black soil.  This is truly a bit of heaven.   I am engrossed with planning my annual cutting garden, building on past accomplishments and undaunted by past failures.  The barren winter garden provides the canvas for this new artistic endeavor.  The future August garden will only slightly resemble my anticipated garden. 

  Holiday activities required stacking the new garden catalogs and magazines until the house was stripped of its decorations.  From mid-January to mid-February I delve into their pages to discover what will again challenge my gardening skills.  My favorite catalogs include: Vermont Bean Seed Co., Select Seeds, The Cook’s Garden, Jung Quality Seeds, Park Seed, Shepherd’s Garden Seeds, Nichols Garden Nursery, and Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  Further enlightment was gleaned from the pages of Taunton’s Fine Gardening, White Flower Farm’s The Gardener, and August Home’s Garden Gate.

   My plant list is near completion.  Agrostemma, cosmos, Verbena bonarienses, Cleome, larkspur, and Nicotiana sylvestris are some repeat stars that create height and movement.  The zinnias, salvias, ageratum, asters, poppies and heliotrope provide contrasting texture and color interest. The new plants to my annual garden include Cynoglossum amabile, Armeria pseudameria, Layia elegans, Lupine hartweggii and Celosia “Hi Z”.  

  Within a few weeks the seeds will have germinated and the process of transplanting them to flats will proceed.  My basement will fill with seedlings that require months of care.  Many will never make it out of the basement and into the real growing world.  Some will be lost at planting time, because Iowa weather is either too cold, too wet or too dry.  After planting, a contest for dominance will ensue between the plants and the weeds until the first frost.   I am determined to do a better job deadheading and cutting back my annuals this summer.  I have neglected this task in the past to the detriment of their vigor.  I use grass shears for overall shearing, hand pruners to cut the tough stems, flower scissors to trim the weak stems and my fingers to hastily pinch off the spent blooms.   Passers by are always welcome to share in the celebration of my accomplishments and in the frustration of my failures.  Visions of blissful moments in my new cutting garden persuade me to remain a devoted gardener. 

   If starting seedlings isn’t your bag, visit your favorite garden center and purchase started pots. Plus, it’s an opportunity to see the plants in real life.  And, don’t be daunted by Latin names.  Call the Horticulture Hotline at 319-447-0647 or, again, visit your garden center.  Either will be happy to define and describe the plant.

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Melting the ice

This is information compiled by Linn County Master Gardener Darrell Hennessey about a question frequently asked the Horticulture Hotline, regarding environmentally friendly alternatives to using salt for melting ice:
 Most deicing compounds are salts that melt the ice on our roads and sidewalks by reducing the melting point of water below 32’F.  Unfortunately they can damage metal, concrete and plants.  There are other alternatives to consider along with their relative merits and limitations:
 Sodium chloride (NaCl)—this is the more common table or rock salt.  It is one of the more readily available compounds and is least expensive.  However, we’re all familiar with the corrosive effects salt can have as well as damage to plants and soil.
 Calcium chloride (CaCl2)—this compound does not leave the white residue on floors and carpets that NaCl does, but it’s also highly corrosive to concrete and metals.  It’s only slightly less damaging to plants than common salt.  It is effective to about -20’F.
 Magnesium chloride (MgCl2)—effective down to about +5’F, and it doesn’t leave the powdery residue.
 All of these salts can damage landscape plants when used to excess.  High levels of salts can accumulate in the soil with the result that water uptake by plants is inhibited and either we count on heavy spring rains or manual flushing from the root zone to limit the effects.  High levels of salt restrict the uptake of essential nutrients by plant roots.  Salt deposited directly on plant foliage can result in dehydration of the plant tissue.
 Some alternative to consider:
             * Avoid using salt entirely (use coarse sand).
             * Reduce the effects by pre-wetting with a salt brine.  An abrasive such as 50 lbs. of sand, cinders or ash mixed with 1 lb. of salt can be an acceptable compromise.
            * Place a barrier between driveways and walkways and susceptible plants.
            * When all else fails, use plants sufficiently tolerant of exposure to salt.  The Extension office has a list of plants with varying susceptibilities.
Master Gardeners are available to answer horticulture questions in an unbiased, research-based manner as a free service to the community at (319) 447-0647.

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