Tuesday, December 12, 2017 0 comments By: Jack Downer

Mistletoe--Interesting Facts

All About Mistletoe
Brian Jervis: Ask a Master Gardener
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Q: This is the time of year we see mistletoe in our trees. I have heard it is a parasite. Should I be concerned for my trees? SA
A: Mistletoe has quite an interesting history. Although references to mistletoe can be found in the writings of Greek philosopher Theophrastus (320 to 270 BC), it was Pliny the Elder (23-79 BC) who can be thanked for giving us some of the earliest descriptions of the beliefs some held toward mistletoe.
With oaks being held sacred at the time, finding mistletoe growing on an oak was cause for celebration. It was felt that during winter, mistletoe contained the life of the oak. They believed mistletoe was protected from injury or harm, and if it were removed from the tree and brought home, these mystical powers would follow.
From the Middle Ages until fairly recently, people used to cut mistletoe from trees, tie them in bunches and hang them in front of their homes to scare away demons. It was also widely considered a universal healer.
The earliest record of kissing under the mistletoe dates to 16th century England, where it was a custom that was apparently popular at the time. Mistletoe plants were sold in the marketplace and were as common as holly and other seasonal greenery.
The mistletoe plants we see in trees come in male and female varieties, with the female producing the white berries. These berries are a favorite food of birds such as cedar waxwings, robins and others. The birds eat and digest the pulp of the berries, excreting the seeds that stick tightly to any branch they come in contact with, thus planting new mistletoe.
Oftentimes when we find mistletoe up in a tree, we can see quite a few plants. This occurs because the birds are attracted to the berries and will spend a fair amount of time in the tree feeding and making seed deposits. While it may take several years for the plant to bloom and produce seeds, healthy mistletoe plants can grow up to two feet in diameter.
Being parasitic, mistletoe draws its water and mineral nutrients from the host tree. Typically, healthy trees can tolerate a mild infestation. However, a heavy infestation may cause the tree to become stunted or, in the worst case, killed.
Removal of the mistletoe is an effective preventive strategy, however, one must prune out infected branches, which is not always possible. Chemical control is available from a product called Florel, but this is typically considered a temporary fix.
If you decide to carry on the tradition of hanging mistletoe in a doorway, be sure to wash your hands with hot soapy water after handling and keep it out of reach of children and pets.
Garden tips
  • Remove leaves from cool-season grasses or mow with a mulching mower.
  • Continue mowing cool-season fescue lawns on a regular basis as long as growth continues.
  • Select a freshly cut Christmas tree. Make a new cut prior to placing in tree stand. Add water daily.
  • Light prunings of evergreens can be used for holiday decorations. Be careful with sap that can mar surfaces.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017 0 comments By: Jack Downer

Using Fireplace Ashes in

Using Fireplace Ashes in the Garden—or Not
Allen Robinson: Ask a Master Gardener
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
Q: I have heard that fireplace ashes are good for vegetable gardens. Is that true? If so, how much is appropriate to use? Tyler M., Tulsa
A: The use of fireplace ashes is a rather complicated subject. While it is commendable to recycle any and all possible waste materials back into the environment, applying ashes should only be done with considerable forethought and planning.
First, ashes resulting from the burning of standard firewood vary as to chemical content. That content depends on the type of wood that was burned and how hot the fire. On average, ashes contain up to 22 percent of undesirable chemical salts, which may actually convert your soil to a high-salt area. This alone can make the soil unfriendly for plants.
In addition, fireplace ashes are highly alkaline, with an average pH of 11.6, which is in the range of household bleach. This reduces the acidity of the soil perhaps to a range unfavorable for most plants, especially vegetables. While there is some nutrient value in ashes (they contain about 6 percent potassium), most gardens that have been fertilized recently already have more than enough potassium. Further, ashes contain little phosphorus and no nitrogen.
Consider that soils in eastern Oklahoma on the whole are slightly acidic, but as you go west past Tulsa, the soils lose acidity and become alkaline. Given that, most ornamental plants and turf grasses prefer the acidity (or pH) of the soil to be neutral or slightly acidic. Most vegetables prefer slightly acidic soil. And some plants, such as azaleas and blueberries, prefer the soil to be strongly acidic. So, adding ashes will tend to drive the soil pH in the wrong direction.
Always consider having a soil test performed before applying any fertilizer or ashes. Soil samples can be dropped off at the Tulsa County OSU Cooperative Extension Service, 4116 E. 15th St. in Tulsa. They will send them to OSU for analysis for about $10. If your soil test indicates the need to make the soil less acidic (raise the pH) and/or if you need to correct for a potassium deficiency, ashes could be used. However, if you do add ashes to your soil, do not exceed 15 pounds per 1,000 square feet of garden or lawn, and do this only once every 10 years.
Because the use of ashes can be complicated and the chance of damaging the soil is so great, it may be wise to forego the use of ashes in your garden or lawn altogether. For further information on the usage of ashes, refer to the Tulsa Master Gardener’s website, tulsamastergardeners.org, and search for OSU’s Fact Sheet PSS-2238, titled “Fireplace Ashes for Lawn and Garden Use.”
Garden tips
  • Don’t forget to keep the compost pile watered. The decay process to produce garden-friendly compost continues in winter if the pile is large enough and kept watered and turned.
  • If your roses have not been mulched, do so now. This is a good place to use those fall leaves which have been shredded with a mulching mower. Mulch not only will prevent cold damage to those plants that are susceptible, but also will prevent warming of soil on warm winter days, which may promote premature, cold-sensitive new growth.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017 0 comments By: Jack Downer

Selecting and Caring for Christmas Trees

Selecting and Caring for Christmas Trees
Tom Ingram: Ask a Master Gardener
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
Q: I want to pick the perfect Christmas tree this year. Any suggestions? LB
A: I understand the sentiment, as the Christmas tree typically serves as the focal point of our decorations for the season. If you follow a few simple steps, selecting your perfect tree can be an enjoyable experience.
While it may seem obvious, give some thought to where your tree will be displayed. Consider height, width and color. Will you only see your tree from one side or will it be visible from all sides?
Next, decide if you want to purchase a pre-cut tree or if you want to get yours from one of the area’s Christmas tree farms. A quick search on the web will provide you with several options for harvesting your own tree and, as you know, pre-cut trees are available from a variety of locations.
Oklahoma hosts several native-grown trees, such as Virginia pine, Leyland cypress, white pine and Arizona cypress. You will find good options in pre-cut trees, such as Fraser fir, Noble fir and Nordmann fir, all of which have a wonderful fragrance, good needle retention and will retain freshness. Each of these will also hold ornaments well.
When selecting your pre-cut tree, freshness is always key. To determine freshness, you can bend the needles. Fresh needles on the firs and spruces will snap kind of like a carrot and are not brittle. Pine needles will bend but break only if they are dry. Of course, the freshest of trees are those you cut and take home.
Once you get your tree home, you should saw about an inch off the bottom and place it in a container of water. If you purchased your tree but it will be several days until you bring it in to decorate, you should store the tree in a cool, shaded area.
Upon bringing your tree in, you should keep its base in water the entire period it is in use. No water additives are needed, but keeping the base in water is a must.
Be sure the tree stand is strong enough to support your decorated tree without falling over, as decorations can add more weight to your tree than you might think.
Also, make sure your tree is away from heat sources, as these tend to dry out the trees and increase the risk level.
Don’t leave the lights lit on the tree unless a responsible person is at home.
Finally, remove the tree before it becomes overly dry. The longer the tree is indoors, the greater the risk of it drying out.
If you follow these tips, you will be well on the way to having a Christmas tree you will remember for years to come.
Garden tips
  • Remove all debris from the vegetable and flower garden to prevent overwintering of various garden pests.
  • Cover water gardens with bird netting to catch dropping leaves. Take tropical water garden plants indoors and stop feeding fish when water temperatures near 50 degrees.
  • Start new garden bed preparations now. Till plenty of organic material into the soil in preparation for spring planting.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017 0 comments By: Jack Downer

Preparing Your Landscape for Winter

Preparing Your Landscape for Winter
Brian Jervis: Ask a Master Gardener
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Q: While the main growing season is over, there must be some things that I can do to prepare my landscape plantings for winter. What are some of the things that I should and should not be doing? Lisa M., Tulsa
A: The average winter temperatures we experience are normally not sufficient to cause extensive winterkill in established plants rated for our hardiness zone (6b to 7). Most plants that do suffer from weather stress are unhealthy to begin with or are simply unsuited for our environment.
If you have been fertilizing over the summer, now is the time to taper off. Hardy plants like trees, shrubs and perennials need to be allowed to go dormant. Fertilizing at this stage may cause a delay in this process and may encourage tender new growth that is especially susceptible to freeze damage. If plants appear weak or a soil test shows serious nutrient deficiencies, wait until after a frost to do any correction. Always follow label instructions and water well.
Pruning should also be kept to a minimum when you are prepping your landscape for winter. Not only can pruning stimulate unwanted new growth, but also in many spring-blooming plants, you will be removing next season’s buds. In addition, you will remove some of the energy that plants made in summer and have stored for winter use. It is perfectly acceptable to cut out any dead or diseased wood, and you should remove all debris from around plantings, thus discouraging any overwintering pests or rodents.
Lack of moisture is a major cause of winter stress for plants. It’s important to keep up with a watering schedule, especially if we are not experiencing timely rains. Longer, deeper watering is always recommended over frequent, shallow watering. You want to get moisture down below any frozen ground. Don’t overlook container plants or plants under eaves that won’t benefit from rains or snow.
And don’t forget the mulch. Not only will a good layer of mulch protect stems and roots from freeze damage, but also it will help moderate soil temperature and moisture. The key is not to mulch too early. Wait until after the first killing frost to lay any additional mulch. And when placing mulch, take care not to pile it around and next to tree trunks and stems as this can cause unnecessary damage. If your roses have not been mulched, do so now. This is a good place to use those fall leaves that have been shredded with a mulching mower. Mulch not only prevents cold damage to susceptible plants, but also will prevent warming of soil on warm winter days, which may promote premature cold-sensitive new growth.
Another consideration is to leave last year’s plants that have seeds on them (such as the purple coneflower) in place until spring. Coneflowers have seed heads that finches love to feed on in winter.
Finally, don’t forget to keep the compost pile watered. The decay process to produce garden-friendly compost continues into the winter if the pile is large enough and kept watered and turned.
Garden tips
  • Fertilize cool-season grasses like fescue with 1 pound nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. This should be the last fertilization for fescue until next spring. Do not fertilize Bermuda or Zoysia until green-up next April.
  • Spring-flowering bulbs like hyacinth, narcissus and tulip, which are sold for “forcing,” can be potted in indoors for a colorful winter display.
  • Tulips can still be planted outdoors through this month.
  • Autumn leaves have good uses other than placing them in the trash. They may be mowed directly into the lawn, which will add nutrients and organic matter; shredded with a lawnmower and added to the compost pile; used as mulch or tilled into the soil of your garden beds.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017 0 comments By: Jack Downer

Controlling Pocket Gophers

Controlling Pocket Gophers
Tom Ingram: Ask a Master Gardener

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Q: I’ve got these mounds of dirt appearing in my yard. Are these moles or gophers, and how do I get rid of them? GM
A: What you are describing are the mounds of excavated soil the pocket gopher pushes to the surface as they tunnel looking for food. The mounds are usually semicircular in shape, possibly 18-24 inches in diameter and about 6 inches high. The opening through which soil is pushed is finally plugged, which leaves the familiar small circular indention on one side of the mound.
Pocket gophers are members of the rodent family and get their name from their ability to carry food in fur-lined external cheek pouches. They have short legs, a stocky body and strong claws used for digging. Pocket gopher’s favorite foods include roots of trees, grass, seeds, leaves, tender stems, tubers and bulbs.
A single pocket gopher may make as many as 200 soil mounds in a year and are most active in the spring and fall. They are primarily solitary creatures, except during the breeding season and when young are present.
In large fields, we would encourage you to take no action toward your guests as they contribute to the formation and condition of the soil while providing food for larger predators. However, control may become necessary when they begin eating garden crops, roots of fruit trees and shrubs, etc.
While poison baits can be effective in eliminating pocket gopher populations, the danger these baits present to animals and humans usually suggest the use of traps.
The best way to trap pocket gophers is to locate the freshest mound of dirt. Oftentimes, the freshest mound is the darkest in color, as it is still moist. Several inches from the indention side of the mound, stick a probe into the soil 4 to 10 inches in depth to locate the tunnel.
Once located, dig an appropriate sized hole to allow access to the tunnel. Because it is hard to know which direction the gopher will come from, place two traps in the tunnel; one facing each direction.
Now, for an important tip. Always tie one end of a strong cord or wire to the trap and secure the other end to a piece of wood or brick on the surface as trapped gophers may take off down the tunnel with your trap in tow. This is a good way to lose a trap. Once your traps are secured, cover up the hole with a rock or a handful of grass to cut off most of the light, and wait.
Instinctively, pocket gophers will sense their tunnel has been compromised and attempt to fix the breach, which brings them to your trap. If you are not successful after a day or so, recover your traps, rake out the soil from the mounds over your yard, and keep an eye out for fresh mounds.
Garden tips
  • Apply dormant oil for scale-infested trees and shrubs before temperatures fall below 40 degrees. Follow label directions.
  • Continue to plant balled and burlapped trees.
  • Wrap young, thin-barked trees with a commercial protective material to prevent winter sunscald.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017 0 comments By: Jack Downer

The Why What and How of Soil Testing

Soil Tests Explained
Brian Jervis: Ask a Master Gardener
Tuesday, November 7, 2017
Q: I’ve heard people say that it is impossible to know what kind of fertilizer and how much to use if you don’t know the chemistry of your soil. Is this true? RD  
A: The short answer to this question is yes, and, fortunately, we have an easy, cost effective way for you to test your soil chemistry.
The best way to understand how soil chemistry works is through an analogy. Assume we didn’t have the ability to measure the levels of gas or oil in our automobiles. If this were the case, we might just decide to add $10 worth of gas and a quart of oil whenever we went to the gas station. However, if we took this approach, we may not have enough gas to get to our destination and are quickly going to have oil all over our engine.
In this analogy, nitrogen is like the gas for our cars while phosphorus and potassium are like the oil. Nitrogen is the primary nutrient that fuels plant growth and gets consumed in the process. Phosphorus and potassium are similar to the oil in our analogy in that they do not get consumed to the same degree, but appropriate levels of these elements are necessary for effective nutrient absorption. A soil test is the gauge we need to assess the levels of these nutrients in our soil.
To perform a soil test, you will need something to collect your samples with and a bucket. We recommend you get between 15 to 20 samples of soil from locations scattered throughout your yard. Each individual sample does not need to be large but needs to go to a depth of about 6 inches. A bulb-planting device works well to gather these individual samples.
Once you have your samples in a bucket, mix them up and remove any sticks or debris. From this mixture of soil, bring a representative sample to the OSU Extension office. We will only need about a sandwich bag-sized amount of soil for your test.
When we receive your soil sample, we will send it to the Soil Science Lab at Oklahoma State University for analysis, and within two weeks, you should receive the results. Your results will contain the levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium found in your soil, along with the pH level. Included will be a recommendation on the nutrients you need to add and how much, along with recommendations on perhaps the nutrients you need to stop adding.
The test has a cost of $10, but in all likelihood, it will be the best $10 you have ever spent on your lawn or garden. If you want to test a smaller garden or flowerbed, this will require a separate test, as those environments would be unique from your lawn. The same instructions would apply.

Garden tips

·        Leftover garden seeds can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer until next planting season. Discard seeds more than 3 years old.
·        The garden centers still have large selections of spring-blooming bulbs for sale. If you intend to plant bulbs, buy them and plant soon. Tulips can still be successfully planted through the middle of November.
·        Be sure to keep leaves off newly seeded fescue. The sprouts will die without sun and air 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017 0 comments By: Jack Downer

Planting Trees in the Fall

Planting Trees in Fall
Allen Robinson: Ask a Master Gardener
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
Q: I have heard that fall is a good time to plant trees. Is that true? If so, what do I need to do to be successful? Roger L., Broken Arrow
A: Fall is clearly the best time to plant most container-grown deciduous trees and those with balled and burlapped root balls. In the fall, the trees have huge energy stores that may be used for growing new roots, rather than producing leaves and fruit. This will allow the tree to enter the following growing season better able to handle the summer stresses. Also, although the air temperatures are dropping, the ground temperatures are still warm enough to encourage good root development for some time. The exception to this rule is that evergreen trees and bare-rooted plants should be planted in early spring.
Of all the newly planted trees that die in the first few years, the problem is almost always due to faulty planting techniques and inadequate aftercare.
First, it is best to dig a wide but shallow, saucer-shaped hole about three times the diameter of the tree’s root ball and no deeper than the root ball itself. If you simply dig a hole the size of the root ball, particularly in clay soil, it will be similar to planting in a clay pot, and the tree will be either too dry or too wet much of the time. If you are planting in high clay soils, to help with root system drainage, the hole should be shallow enough to elevate the crown of the root ball 2-3 inches above grade.
When planting trees, it is recommended that you use only native soil for backfill. Studies have shown that trees do better if no amendments are added back to the native soil, as it may delay establishment and promote disease. If you decide to fertilize, apply a slow-release type only to the top of the soil after planting.
Eliminating grass from the tree’s base significantly improves its growth rate and health. After planting, apply 2-4 inches of loose mulch to a 4- to 6-foot circle around the base of the tree and keep it well mulched for the first three years. This circle will keep unwanted grass away from the dripline and weed eaters away from the tree trunk.
All newly planted trees need supplemental watering for the first three years until a mature root system develops. They need at least one inch of water per week and more if extremely hot and windy conditions exist. Wilting of the trees’ leaves may indicate a need for more water, but be aware that too much water can also produce wilting. If in doubt, simply feel the soil.
If the tree is on a slope or in a windy area, stake it only until the tree feels firm in the ground, which could take up to one year. After the first growing season, remove the stakes. If not removed, the stakes will adversely affect the tree’s structural integrity and delay tree growth.

Garden tips
  • Keep leaves off newly seeded fescue to prevent damage to the sprouts. Also, the soil of newly seeded fescue should kept moist until the sprouts are about 2 inches, then water less often and for longer times to encourage deep root growth of the seedlings.
  • Remove garden debris to prevent many garden pests and diseases from overwintering in these materials.
  • Plant cool-season cover crops like Austrian winter peas, wheat, clover and rye in otherwise fallow garden plots.
  • Cover water gardens with netting to keep out falling leaves.