Posts tagged pH

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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Attracting birds and other wintertime tips

The following Q&A is from Iowa State University Extension’s garden experts:

I recently purchased a Norfolk Island pine.  How do I care for it? 

 

The Norfolk Island pine is a popular houseplant. During the holiday season, many individuals turn their plants into living Christmas trees by decorating them with miniature lights, ribbons and ornaments. The Norfolk Island pine thrives indoors when given good, consistent care. Place the Norfolk Island pine in a brightly lit location near an east, west or south window. Rotate the plant weekly to prevent the plant from growing toward the light and becoming lopsided. 

 

Thoroughly water the Norfolk Island pine when the soil surface becomes dry to the touch. Discard the excess water, which drains out the bottom of the pot. From spring to early fall, fertilize the plant with a dilute fertilizer solution every 2 to 4 weeks. A temperature of 55 to 70  degrees F is suitable for the Norfolk Island pine. Winter is often a difficult time because of low relative humidity levels in most homes. Raise the humidity level around the Norfolk Island pine with a humidifier or place the plant on a pebble tray. Low relative humidity levels, insufficient light, or infrequent watering may induce browning of branch tips and lead to the loss of the lower branches. 

 

Which trees and shrubs provide food for birds during the winter months? 

 

When attempting to attract birds to the landscape, trees and shrubs that provide food during the winter months are extremely important as natural foods are most limited at this time of year. Trees that provide food for birds in winter include hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), hawthorn (Crataegus species), eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and crabapple (Malus species). Shrubs that provide food for birds include red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), sumac (Rhus species), roses (native species and Rosa rugosa), snowberry (Symphoricarpos species), nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) and American cranberrybush viburnum (Viburnum trilobum). 

 

Can I dispose of my wood ashes in the garden? 

 

Wood ashes contain small amounts of several plant nutrients. The nutrient content of wood ashes depends on the type of wood burned, the thoroughness of its burning, and other factors.  Generally, wood ashes contain 5 to 7 percent potash, 1 percent phosphate, and small amounts of other elements. However, the largest component of wood ashes is calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is a liming material. Liming materials raise the soil pH. 

 

The soil pH is important because it affects the availability of essential nutrients. The pH scale runs from 0 to 14. Any pH below 7.0 is acidic and any pH above 7.0 is alkaline. A pH of 7.0 is neutral. Most vegetables and perennials grow best in slightly acidic soils with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Plants may not perform as well in soils with a pH above 7.0 because of the reduced availability of some essential nutrients. 

 

Avoid applying wood ashes to garden areas with a pH above 7.0. Applying wood ashes to alkaline soils may raise the soil pH and reduce the availability of some plant nutrients. An application of 10 to 20 pounds of wood ashes per 1,000 square feet should be safe if the soil pH is below 7.0. If the soil pH in your garden is unknown, conduct a soil test to determine the pH of your soil before applying wood ashes to flower or vegetable gardens. 

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Sour soil

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

 

My granddaughter was reading to me the other day and asked me to define “etc.” and eucalyptus”.  That got me to thinking that there have been several occasions where I’ve been a bit embarrassed because I didn’t know the definitions of some gardening words.  Following are a very few of the multitudes of terms.  Acid Soil:  soil with a pH less than 7.0.  Acid soil is sometimes called “sour soil” by gardeners.  Most plants refer a slightly acid soil between 6-7 where most essential nutrients are available.

  • Alkaline Soil:  soil with a pH greater than 7.0, usually formed from limestone bedrock.  Akaline soil is often referred to as “sweet soil”. 
  • Bare Roots:  trees, shrubs, and perennials that have been grown in soil, dug and have had he soil removed prior to sales or shipping.  Mail order plants are often shipped bare root with the roots packed in peat moss, sawdust or similar material and wrapped In plastic 
  • Berm:  a low, artificial hill created in a landscape to elevate a portion of the landscape for functional and aesthetic reasons such as to add interest, screen areas, or improve drainage.
  • Canopy:  the total overhead area of a tree including the branches and leaves.
  • Cold Hardiness:  the ability of a perennial plant (including trees, shrubs and vines) to survive the minimum winter temperature in a particular area.
  • Complete fertilizer:  powdered, liquid or granular fertilizer with a balanced proportion of the three key nutrients-nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K).
  • Compost:  decomposed organic matter added to the soil to improve its drainage and ability to retain moisture.
  • Corm:  a modified bulb-like stem.  It is swollen, short, solid and located underground. Crocus and glads are two plants that grow from corms.
  • Cultivar:  a CULTIvated VARiety.  A unique form of a plant that has been identified as special or superior and has been selected for propagation and sale.
  • Deadhead:  to remove faded flowers from plants to improve their appearance, prevent seed production, and stimulate further flowering.
  • Deciduous Plants:  trees and shrubs that lose their leaves in the fall.
  • pH: a measurement of the relative acidity (low pH) or alkalinity (high pH) of soil or water based on a scale of 1 to 14, with 7 being neutral.  Individual plants require soil to be within a certain range so that nutrients can dissolve in moisture and be available to them. 
  • Rootbound (or potbound):  the condition of a plant that has been confined in a container too long.  Its roots are forced to wrap around themselves and even swell out of the container.  Successful transplanting or repotting required untangling and trimming away some of the matted roots.
  • Self-seeding:  the tendency of some plants to sow their seeds freely around the yard.  It creates many seedlings the following season that may or may not be welcome.
  • Slow-acting (slow release) fertilizer:  fertilizer that is water soluble and releases its nutrients when acted on by soil temperature, moisture and/or related microbial activity.  Typically granular, it may be organic or synthetic.
  • Variegated:  having various colors or color patterns.  The term usually refers to plant foliage that is streaked, edged, blotched, or mottled with a contrasting color, often green with yellow, cream or white.

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