Saturday, October 31, 2015 0 comments By: Ask A Master Gardener

Saving and Storing Seeds

Collecting, storing seeds for future planting

Brian Jervis: Ask a Master Gardener

Saturday October 30, 2015

Q: I would like to collect seeds to plant next year. How is the best way to do this? J. A. Tulsa
A: It is a great idea to collect and store seeds for future use, but not all plant seeds will produce expected outcomes. For satisfactory results, it is important to know what type of plant grew the seeds.
Hybrid plants do not produce seeds that come back true to type. Hybrids are made from a controlled cross between two similar types of plants. The random pollination of hybrids results in plants different from the parent. The seed packet containing the original seeds will inform you if the plant is a hybrid.
Open-pollinated and heirloom plants have stable traits that transfer predictably to the following generations. There may be some slight differences from the parent plant, but these are usually acceptable. An exception to this is when varieties of the same species (such as several varieties of squash) are grown together. They may cross-pollinate, and seeds coming from these plants may produce fruit with traits from each variety of squash.
Collect seeds after they are completely mature and when the seeds or pods become dry and lose color. Let the seeds dry out on the plant as long as possible and then collect seeds only from the healthiest looking plants.
After collecting the seeds or pods separate them from the non-seed material, remove as much of the trash as possible. Then place the seeds on a flat surface, such as a large pan or screen. They should be placed in a well-ventilated area and allowed to dry completely over several days.
At that point, most seeds do well if placed in an air-tight container and stored either in the refrigerator or in the freezer. It varies from plant to plant, but most seeds are viable when stored in the freezer for a few years — some for many years.
Other seeds need a different approach. The “wet-seeded” plants such as tomatoes require a bit more processing. For tomatoes and cucumbers, collect the ripe fruit and mash them into a pulp. Add some water to the point that the mixture can be stirred. Allow to ferment in a warm place, such as the top of the refrigerator, for 2-3 days. It should develop a white matt of fungal growth on the surface. This fermentation removes the outer protective pulp from the seeds.
At that point, add some more water and stir well. Then allow to sit, and the good seeds will drop to the bottom of the container. Separate and dry them and store as above.
Much more information is available online from the Organic Seed Alliance and from the Seed Savers Exchange. Visit their websites if you have an interest in saving seeds from your plants at the end of the season.

Garden tips
§  Keep leaves off of newly seeded fescue to prevent damage to the sprouts. Also, the soil of newly seeded fescue should be 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 insects and diseases from overwintering in your garden beds.
§  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.

Saturday, October 24, 2015 0 comments By: Ask A Master Gardener

Putting flower beds under trees can hurt the tree

Putting flower beds under trees can hurt the tree

Bill Sevier: Ask a Master Gardener

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Q: Grass will not grow under a tree in my lawn, and I am planning on putting in a flower bed around the tree. The edging will be bricks, and I need to add some soil. Will this hurt the tree? J.T., Tulsa
A: The trees in our landscape are beautiful and add value and functionality to our homes and usually require little care. However, there are significant issues when attempting to grow a lawn or create a garden bed under their canopies.
Any disturbance to the soil over the roots — either adding or removing soil — may have serious consequences for a tree. OSU, in its fact sheet, “Site Disturbance and Tree Decline,” outlines the hazards to a tree from change of grade. OSU horticulturists feel that adding soil to the root zone of mature trees should not be done.
Even temporary piling up of soil often done during construction of a home may be harmful.
To understand the problems, one must understand what makes up the root system of a tree.
For most mature trees, the large majority of roots are in the top 18 inches of soil, and the tree’s root system often extends out two to three times the distance from the trunk to the drip line. A tree’s root system includes the larger roots, which support the tree, and the smaller roots, which absorb water, nutrients and oxygen (plants get their oxygen from roots, not leaves). The smaller absorptive roots are generally in the top 3-6 inches of soil.
If one adds soil to the area under a tree, as is often done when creating a flower bed, this blocks the flow of oxygen into the upper layers of soil, resulting in injury due to suffocation. It may also promote diseases.
The addition or removal of soil over roots will often cause a tree to go into a gradual decline, a decline which may be fatal over several years. This is manifest by smaller leaves, less linear growth of limb tips, early fall leaf coloration and leaf drop. The decline may then progress to die-back of twigs and then death of larger limbs in the canopy (top) of the tree. Once trees manifest these symptoms, they usually die in a few years.
If a turfgrass with some shade tolerance, such as fescue, will not grow under a tree and a garden bed is desired, shade-tolerant plants and loose mulch may be the answer. When planting something such as a ground cover or other shade-tolerant plants, one should minimize the ground preparation in the tree’s root zones.
Then add a layer of a loose mulch but no more than 3-4 inches. This will allow air to circulate into the soil without posing a risk to your trees.

Garden tips
§  Remove green fruit from tomato plants when frost threatens. If they are green but full sized, they will ripen indoors. They do not need to be in sunshine to ripen indoors.
§  The average first frost date (temperature below 32 degrees) for our area is Nov. 3.
§  Use a cold-frame device to plant spinach, lettuce and various other cool-season crops for production most of the winter.
§  Take tropical water garden plants indoors when the water temperature reaches 50 degrees. Also, stop feeding fish in the pond at this water temperature.

Saturday, October 17, 2015 0 comments By: Ask A Master Gardener

Storing Pesticides

Diluted pesticides should never be kept

Bill Sevier: Ask a Master Gardener

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Q: Is it OK to store my unused herbicide in my sprayer? Ted, Tulsa
A: No, once a concentrated pesticide has been diluted, it should not be stored under any circumstance in any type of container. There are good reasons for this.
First, like most people, we tend to forget. The name and type of a chemical in a sprayer after it has been used and set aside may be misremembered. You easily can end up applying a harmful chemical to your vegetable garden, putting those who eat the veggies at risk. Or a possibility of less-severe consequences is killing a desirable ornamental or vegetable plant by spraying an herbicide inappropriately.
Chemical pesticides are stable while in the original container as a concentrate. However, once diluted with water, many pesticides deteriorate — some rapidly — over a few hours. This information is usually not available on the label, and one must assume any diluted pesticide will not be stable.
Pesticides that come already diluted and ready to use are usually mixed in a way that makes them stable but only for the duration listed on the label. If there is no time of best use on the label, discard the mixture after one season.
The work-around to this problem involves planning ahead and mixing only the amount of pesticide you anticipate using. Any left in the sprayer should be applied to the area sprayed originally. One thing that should never be done is to pour the pesticide into the street gutter; this adds toxins directly to our waterways.
Related to this is how to handle pesticides that are old or have lost their label. These should not be used and should be stored in a safe place until the Tulsa M.E.T. has its twice yearly Pesticide Collection Event at the Tulsa Fairgrounds. The next collection event is Nov. 7-8 at the Tulsa Fairgrounds gate No. 7 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. All pesticides are accepted and disposed of in a safe manner.
Empty pesticide containers may be recycled but only after rinsing vigorously three times. The rinse water should be applied to the landscape area that received the original spray.
Most of us prefer not to use pesticides, or if we do, use the “soft” organic types that have less risk to you and the environment. There are many ways to avoid, or minimize, pesticide risk. This falls under the heading of IPM, or Integrated Pest Management. This widely used technique encourages the prevention of pests and their damage by managing the ecosystem. This involves careful monitoring of your plants and the correct identification of the insect or disease to decide if any management is needed. If so, it recommends steps that have low impact on the environment and also suggests accepting the fact that some damage due to pests is inevitable but acceptable.

Garden tips

·       Plant container-grown trees and shrubs this month. Fall is generally the best time to plant. At this time, the plants have no energy burden of producing leaves and can concentrate on growing a root system until the soil cools in winter. They are then better prepared for growth the following spring.

·       Check and treat houseplants for insect pests before bringing inside. Look at the roots and re-pot those that are root-bound. Irrigate the soil thoroughly before bringing inside.

·       There is still time to plant radishes and mustard in the fall garden.

Saturday, October 10, 2015 0 comments By: Ask A Master Gardener

Poison Ivy and Poison Oak

Poison ivy, poison oak share many similarities

Brian Jervis: Ask a Master Gardener

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Q: I think I can recognize poison ivy; what does poison oak look like? Do we have it in Oklahoma? How can I identify it? A. G., Tulsa
A: We do have a variety, Atlantic poison oak, in our state, but it is not nearly as common as poison ivy. They share many similarities and both have the capacity to cause severe allergic rashes in about 85 percent of the population.
There is a third plant in the “poison” group called poison sumac. It is rare in Oklahoma and more common to the south and east coastal states.
Some of the keys to identifying poison oak and poison ivy are interchangeable. They both have leaflets of three to a stem. The leaflets and stems are distributed on the plant in an alternating fashion, and they are not opposite each other where they originate. Likewise, the leaf veins are not opposite but alternate where they connect in the center of the leaf.
Of the three leaves, the middle one has a much longer stem than the other two. If leaves have no stems, it is a different plant. The leaf size and shape are variable for poison ivy, but poison oak typically has a shape similar to a white oak, with scalloped edges, and may be 6 or more inches long. Both plants are extremely colorful in the fall.
Poison ivy and poison oak have small off-white flowers, which produce white pea-sized berries. If berries are red, blue or purple, it is not one of these. Each of these plants can grow as a shrub several feet tall. Poison ivy may form a vine but not poison oak. The poison ivy vine may be an inch or more across and almost always has dense hair-like aerial rootlets for attachment to trees. Vines grow straight up a tree. If the vine twines or circles a tree it is not likely poison ivy.
In winter, identification is difficult. If berries are still present, this helps, but an expert is required to identify bare stems. It should be kept in mind that the toxin in these plants, “urushiol”, is present in the stems and fruits of both plants in all seasons and is capable of causing the typical rash.
Master Gardeners are often asked to identify a plant as to whether it is poison ivy. There are several plants that may have three leaves or other characteristics causing confusion with poison ivy and poison oak. Some plants often having three leaves are bladdernut shrub, boxelder tree sprouts, aromatic sumac, skunkbush sumac and wild blackberry. Other plants that may form vines and can be confused with the poisonous ones are Virginia creeper (five leaves), wild grape and Boston and English ivy.

Garden tips
§  Now is a good time to fertilize spring-blooming bulb plants. Use only nitrogen unless a soil test indicates a need for phosphorus and potassium. If you are not sure where the plants are, wait until spring and fertilize when the leaves first emerge. These plants' root systems are inactive from bloom time in spring until the following fall. Fertilizing them at that time will result in waste.
§  Dig and store tender perennials like dahlias and caladiums in a cool, dry location. Cannas and elephant ears can also be dug, but most will survive the winter fine if mulched heavily and in a sheltered area.
§  Plant fall mums and asters and keep them watered during dry conditions. Don’t crowd because they take a couple of years to reach maturity.

Thursday, October 8, 2015 0 comments By: Ask A Master Gardener

Assisting the elderly with gardening activities

Assisting the elderly with gardening activities

Bill Sevier: Ask a Master Gardener

Saturday, October 8, 2015

Q: My mother loves to garden, but due to her age-related problems, she is having difficulties. What can I do to make gardening easier for her? E. C., Tulsa
A: There are several things one can do to assist gardening activities for the elderly. The challenges facing aging gardeners are well-recognized and written about. A recent review from the National Institutes of Health goes into great detail.
Our population, and in many other countries worldwide, is getting older. Along with age there are numerous medical problems which may develop. Some of these problems are physical while others are related to memory, intellectual function and social situations.
All seniors can benefit from gardening activities indoors and outdoors. The fact that these activities are beneficial is the basis for popular horticultural therapy with “therapeutic gardens.”
Studies have suggested that these activities may help maintain independent living, thereby reducing the use and therefore the cost of long-term care facilities. With horticultural therapy activities, there also seems to be significant improvement in general mental status, sense of responsibility, social interaction and over-all stress levels.
Mobility may be improved with activity associated with reduced incidences of falls and related trauma. The age-related pains and discomforts seem to be less related to increased activity.
The issues that older people often have, which may limit gardening participation, are failing vision, reduced manual dexterity, difficulty with stooping and lifting, along with intolerance of heat.
To meet these challenges, some generic suggestions could be helpful.
Garden tools may be painted with a bright color to better enable seniors to locate them. Tools can be modified as to length, shape and covered with rubber sleeves for easier griping.
To deal with difficulties in stooping, consider raised beds a couple of feet high, designed with a place to sit and for wheelchair access, if needed. Also consider vertical gardens or trellis structures, which are easier to reach.
There are several devices to aid in working close to the ground. One of the best is a “garden kneeler,” a low stool with knee pads and elevated handles at each side to assist standing from a kneeling position.
Other helpful ideas are to use seed tapes, which are easier to handle than seeds. Also, selecting plants to stimulate the senses, especially those of touch and smell, may be desirable and helpful for all of us, including seniors.
A common-sense tip for seniors to help deal with the heat is to drink plenty of fluids and, in summer, garden in the morning before 10 or in the afternoon after 2. Also helpful are large gardening hats, long-sleeved shirts, gardening gloves, eye protection and sunscreen.
If you are a senior or if you have a family member or a friend who is a senior, get involved. Get the right tools, use common sense, along with your accumulated wisdom, to get into gardening, be it flowers, vegetables or houseplants.

Garden tips
Plant cool-season annuals like pansies, ornamental cabbage or kale, snapdragons and dusty miller when temperatures begin to cool.

Prune trees or shrubs anytime there are dead or diseased limbs. Do not perform routine pruning now. Pruning before winter dormancy may stimulate new growth sensitive to the cold. Fall pruning also removes energy stores needed for winter survival. Prune summer-blooming plants in late winter before spring growth starts and prune spring-blooming plants after blooming is completed.

Continue to replant or establish cool-season lawns like fescue. Mow and neatly edge warm-season grasses before the first killing frost.