Tuesday, December 26, 2017 0 comments By: Ask A Master Gardener

Poinsettia Care

Poinsettia Care
Tom Ingram: Ask a Master Gardener

December 26, 2017

Q: I recently received a poinsettia as a gift. How do I take care of this beautiful plant? DH
A: Poinsettias are a plant native to Mexico but were introduced to the United States by the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Joel Poinsett. In climates without the harsh winters we have in Oklahoma, such as Florida and California, they can be grown in the landscape.
An interesting thing about poinsettias is that oftentimes the red part of the plant is considered the flower. However, those are actually specialized leaves called bracts. The flower is the yellow part surrounded by the colorful bracts. Poinsettias with red bracts are typically the most popular, but plants are available with yellow, orange, pink, white and variegated bracts.
Temperatures of between 60 and 70 degrees are most favorable for your plant. Try to avoid cold drafts or excessive heat from your heating system. And keep the plant away from windows, as the cold glass could damage your plant.
Light is important, so place your plant in a place where it will receive at least six to eight hours of light a day.
Moisture for your plant is also important, and you can assess moisture by feeling the growing medium or using a water moisture meter. Water the top when it starts to feel dry. Slight wilting is not problematic, but do not allow the plant to dry out, as this will accelerate bract drop.
Do not water when the growing medium is already wet as this will encourage root rot and tend to suffocate the plant. Yellow and dropping leaves may lead you to believe the plant is dry and needs water, but check the growing medium as symptoms of overwatering can sometimes appear to be caused by lack of water.
Oftentimes, people will ask us if they can somehow save their poinsettias to have another beautiful plant the following year. The answer is yes, but the process comes with a set of challenges.
If you decide to give it a shot, after placing it outside in the spring, in September you will need to bring the plant indoors and begin a fairly stringent regimen of forcing the plants to bloom. This schedule includes leaving the plants in a sunny window during the day but putting them in complete darkness each evening. This daily procedure will likely need to be repeated each day from September through Thanksgiving to give you good bract color. If you would like to try, we have an informative fact sheet with all the details at the Extension office (HLA-6413).
Whether you want to attempt to re-flower your existing poinsettia or just purchase a new one next year, poinsettias are a colorful part of the American Christmas tradition.

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.
  • Cover strawberry plants with a mulch about 3-4 inches thick if plants are prone to winter injury.
  • Wait to prune fruit trees until late February or March.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017 0 comments By: Ask A Master Gardener

Winter Bird Care

Being a Bird Friend in Winter
Allen Robinson: Ask a Master Gardener
Tuesday December 19, 2017
Q: With cold temperatures setting in and, in particular, dry conditions prevailing, I am concerned that birds will not have what they need to survive through the winter. Is there anything I can do to help them? Lisa A., Broken Arrow
A: This is a good question that many people think about. While birds and other wildlife are naturally equipped to withstand seasonal changes, we can do our part to help by providing food, water and shelter to them.
As the temperatures begin to dip, birds acquire adaptive behaviors to survive the cold nights ahead. For instance, to require fewer nutrients to survive, they may lose up to 15 percent of their body weight. Some grow additional feathers to thicken their insulation, while others do a ritual called feather fluffing to puff out down feathers, which creates air pockets to trap body heat. Still others lower their metabolic rates to cause their body temperature to decline and heart rates to decrease so fewer calories are burned on cold winter nights.
At a time when caloric requirements are increasing, the food supplies such as insects, seeds, weeds, fruit and nuts are being eaten rapidly or simply do not exist in our landscapes. And, with freezing temperatures and/or dry conditions, little to no water is available at a time when dehydration is even more critical than starvation. Eating snow takes precious energy, and water is needed for hydration and preening to keep feathers aligned and positioned to prevent the loss of body heat faster.
While birds have a variety of adaptive behaviors, there are several things that we can do to help. Start by continuously filling bird feeders with nyjer, black oil sunflower seed and suet, which birds find and come to rely on throughout the winter. Nyjer is a popular seed with many finches, sparrows, doves, towhees and buntings. Water in a liquid state can be maintained by using heated birdbaths or by placing heating elements in existing baths. Many heaters are thermostatically controlled when temperatures drop below freezing. Nesting boxes should be cleaned out and left for some species like the black chickadee, which roost together in these boxes at night or on cold, windy days.
As gardeners, we can also plan to utilize planting materials that provide berries such as junipers. We can also put off our fall clean-ups until spring when temperatures begin to rise. Perennials with seed heads, herbaceous shrubs that provide protection from the cold and even old rotting limbs can provide food and roosting sites for many species. And leaves left on garden beds provide warmth and food for beneficial insects and amphibians.
So, to help our feathery friends, put out some seed, feed consistently, fill up that bath and keep it full, install a heater, and put off that pruning and clean-up until spring. This way, we have less yard work to do now and, instead, can enjoy our beautiful feathered allies who help us control insects all season long.
Garden tips

  • Information concerning firewood as to which wood is best for burning, how to obtain and measure wood may be found in OSU Fact Sheet NREM-9440. Tips on how to cut and split wood safely are also described.
  • One thing you should not do when obtaining firewood is to transport it any distance. Because of the high incidence of many types of invasive insects in firewood, such as the Emerald Ash Borer, many states ban all imports. A good rule of thumb is to not go more than 50 miles to obtain wood and 10 miles is even better.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017 0 comments By: Ask A Master Gardener

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: Ask A Master Gardener

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: Ask A Master Gardener

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: Ask A Master Gardener

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: Ask A Master Gardener

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: Ask A Master Gardener

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: Ask A Master Gardener

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.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017 0 comments By: Ask A Master Gardener

Take Advantage of the Benefits of Fall Leaves

Dealing With Fall Leaves
Tom Ingram: Ask a Master Gardener
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Q: Each year, it seems like I spend every weekend bagging leaves. Is there a better way to deal with the leaves that fall from my trees each year? SW
A: It’s easy to view the leaves that will soon be falling from our trees as a nuisance that just comes with home ownership. But, what if we started looking at those leaves as free fertilizer and mulch falling from the sky because that’s what they are?
If we observe what happens in nature with leaves in the fall, our first observation will be a rather obvious one: No one comes through the forest and bags up the leaves. Instead, these leaves are part of a yearly cycle that accomplishes several things.
First of all, when the leaves fall to the ground, they decompose, adding organic matter and valuable nutrients to the soil. By mowing our leaves into the turf with a mulching mower, rather than bagging them up and hauling them away, we have a free source of organic matter to help supplement our soil. Some may suggest that mulching leaves into the turf can contribute to an increased thatch layer and possibly have an effect on soil pH; however, evidence doesn’t confirm these suspicions. In fact, turfgrass with mulched-in leaves tends to perform better than turf without this additional organic matter.
Organic matter is important because it helps with water and nutrient retention, as well as improves soil structure. Oklahoma soils are typically low in organic mater — about 1 percent. So any time we can add organic matter back into our soil, we are helping to improve soil quality. Many gardeners try to achieve an organic content of between 4 percent and 5 percent, and leaves can be a yearly supplement in support of this strategy.
Secondly, leaves that fall to the ground in the forest are an effective mulch. Each spring, gardeners spend a small fortune on mulch, which they could have gotten for free with a little planning in the fall.
Mulch in your garden can help prevent weeds, reduce root damage from cultivation, increase water absorption and retention, decrease runoff and soil erosion, and help regulate soil temperature.
To use these leaves as mulch, you will need to pile them up in the driveway and run your mulching mower over them, or purchase a stand-alone leaf mulcher. Depending on the size of your garden, if you bag these mulched leaves and save them over the winter, you will have a wonderful source of organic mulch ready and waiting for you in the spring.
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 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.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017 0 comments By: Ask A Master Gardener

How to Prepare Tropical Plants for Moving Indoors for Winter

Moving Plants indoors for Winter
Brian Jervis: Ask a Master Gardener
Tuesday October 17, 2017
Q: I moved my indoor plants outdoors for the summer as they seem to enjoy it out there. Now that the weather is getting cooler, I want to move them back indoors. What do I need to do to make that move a success for them? Lisa M., Tulsa
A: Houseplants that spent their summer vacations outside are nearing time to be brought indoors. Because tropical plants may be damaged if nighttime temperatures drop into the low 40s, start bringing your plants in when nighttime temperatures start dipping below 45 to 50 degrees.
While outdoors, your plants may have picked up one of several insects, such as spider mites or mealybugs. Inspect the leaves for insects or evidence of insects, such as webbing, wet sticky areas or yellow-speckled leaves. Look in the top layer of potting soil for pill bugs and slugs. Inspect and thoroughly clean the sides and bottom of the pot and its saucer.
If you find insects, a chemical insecticide may be needed. However, if there are only a few insects, consider a different approach. A cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol is excellent for removing small numbers of insects. Be sure to follow this by thoroughly hosing the plant with a stream of water, even if you do not see insects, as this will help remove any hidden pests, as well as clean the leaves.
For further pest avoidance, you may wish to spray the plant with an insecticidal soap or light horticultural oil according to the product’s label. You may also mix a dilute solution of an insecticidal soap and pour through the soil, then flush the soil after 15 minutes with fresh water.
Before moving the plants indoors, especially if they have been in the sun, first move them into shade, gradually reducing lighting for at least one month before bringing them inside. Plants, especially ferns, may drop some leaves due to this transition from sun to shade. Once they are brought back into the house, be aware of how much light they are receiving.
For regularly fertilized plants, now is also a good time to leach the soil. Fertilizers cause accumulation of salt residues in potting soil, which is bad for the plant’s health. Running water through the soil and allowing it to completely drain will remove these salts. Irrigate with a volume of water approximately twice the size of the pot. Do this twice yearly.
Reduce the amount of watering and do not fertilize during the winter months. Plants do need some moist air, so a humidifier or bowls of water nearby will help to keep them healthy, but never put them near a heat vent. Plants will typically do better in a 60- to 70-degree environment, rather than overheated rooms. Finally, unless they are extremely overcrowded in the pot, it is best to wait until spring to repot them.
In the spring, wait until outside temperatures are above 50 degrees, then place them in a protected area out of any sun. Repot, fertilize, water and enjoy. Do keep in mind that some houseplants want to stay inside all year, so look up your plants’ needs in a good indoor garden book.
Garden tips

Peonies, daylilies, and other spring-flowering perennials should be divided or planted now.

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.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017 0 comments By: Ask A Master Gardener

Fall is the Best Time To Plant Trees and Shrubs

Planting Trees and Shrubs in Fall is Best
Tom Ingram: Ask a Master Gardener
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Q: I’ve heard fall is the best time to plant trees and shrubs. Is this true? LK
A: In some ways, this may seem counter-intuitive, but fall is indeed the best time to plant most trees and shrubs. The reason for this is that trees and shrubs planted at this time have the fall, winter and spring to develop a healthy root system before our Oklahoma summer arrives.
The best way to help a young tree or shrub acclimate to its new home is to dig the hole two to three times the diameter of the root ball and no deeper than the root ball itself. If you have hard clay soil, you should plant trees and shrubs 1-2 inches above grade. For sandy soils, plant at grade level.
Plan on keeping a 4- to 6-foot grass-free mulched circle around young trees or shrubs for at least 2-3 years. This mulch should be 2-4 inches deep. Be sure to use some kind of organic mulch, such as compost, bark, grass clippings or straw. Do not use plastic under the mulch to prevent weeds, as this will limit your tree’s or shrub’s access to water.
New trees and shrubs have a limited ability to utilize fertilizer until they have an established root system, therefore, fertilization is often not recommended at the time of planting. Optimally, young trees and shrubs can be fertilized from March through July. But, before adding fertilizer, we recommend you get a soil test from the OSU Extension so you know which elements are needed in your soil.
On average, young trees and shrubs need 1 inch of water per week whether this comes from rain or hand watering. In dry conditions, newly planted trees and shrubs may need to be watered 2-3 times per week as their root systems have not developed to the point where they can replenish the water they are losing through their leaves.
Some young trees will need to be staked if top heavy or planted in windy areas. If this is the case, use only the quantity of stakes necessary and leave it a little bit of room to move, as this is how the trunk develops strength. When stakes are left in place longer than 2 years, the tree’s ability to stand on its own will be compromised.
Young trees with thin bark, such as ash, birch, linden or maple, should have their trunks wrapped with a paper tree wrap during winter for the first two years if they are exposed to the southwest winter sun. The heating and cooling by the sun during winter can cause bark damage from which the tree never recovers.
We have quite a bit of information at our Diagnostic Center on varieties of trees and shrubs that do well in our area. Give us a call or drop by; we would love to help you find the perfect addition to your home.
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.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017 0 comments By: Ask A Master Gardener

Fall a Good Time to Divide Iris and Lilies

Dividing Iris and Daylilies
Allan Robinson: Ask a Master Gardener
Tuesday, September 26, 2017
Q: When should I divide my irises and daylilies? And how should this be done? Francis R., Tulsa
A: Irises 
Of the many types of irises, the most commonly grown are hybrids or bearded irises. Bearded irises are the ones that have a hair-like structure on one of their lower flower blades, along with showy, multicolored blossoms.
They usually bloom in spring or early summer but then go dormant until the fall. These irises should be divided every three to four years during late summer to early fall.
Irises have a root-like structure called a rhizome from which they reproduce. It is a slender potato-like structure. As a plant grows and blooms, it produces small baby rhizomes at the edge of the mother plant.
It’s these young rhizomes that produce new plants. The mother rhizome will not bloom again. These new rhizomes will have small buds where they will produce new plants.
To divide: Dig up the whole structure, trim the iris blades to 6-8 inches in length and separate out the new rhizomes by cutting or breaking away from the parent structure. The goal is to get young rhizomes that have one to three small buds, along with a few healthy leaves and some roots. Discard the rhizomes that are mushy or appear diseased.
To prepare the soil: The new planting area should be prepared beforehand. Irises do well in a range of full sun to afternoon shade, but they must be planted in well-drained soil to prevent rot. If you have a clay soil, incorporate several inches of organic compost to aid in drainage. A slow-release fertilizer mixed into the soil is optional, but beware that too much nitrogen will increase disease susceptibility.
When planting, cover the roots well, but the rhizome should be shallow, preferably less than 1 inch deep with the top of the rhizome slightly out of the ground. If planted any deeper, it likely will not bloom. Do not mulch, as it may cause disease.
Dividing and transplanting bearded irises will improve health and produce more blossoms, but be aware that they may not bloom the first year after moving.
Division of daylilies, as well as hostas, may be done in either the spring or fall. But in our area, fall division is preferable as replanting will allow for considerable root growth before next spring.
Before digging, trim the leaves to 6 inches or so and water the plants to loosen the soil. Dig the plant with a large root ball and wash the soil from the roots with a hose. This will allow you to tease out individual plants without cutting them. The goal is to have plants with three or more leaf fans and a healthy-looking clump of roots. A large clump of daylilies may yield several new plants for you and your gardening friends.
When replanting, prepare your site beforehand by mixing in a generous amount of good organic compost and making sure the new location will get several hours of sunlight. Adding a slow-release fertilizer into the soil at planting is optional.
Garden tips
·       Begin preparing your outdoor plants for a move indoors. Move houseplants indoors when the outside and indoor temperatures are about the same. For plants in full sun, move to shade. Begin with light and then heavier shade over a week’s time to prepare the plant for the low light indoors. If you move the plant from full sun to a low-light indoor situation, the plant may experience “shock,” lose leaves and perform poorly inside.
·       Inspect plants for insects and disease and treat accordingly. In many cases, a few insects can be controlled by hosing down the plant and removing by hand. Another option is to use an insecticidal soap spray. This is effective and safe for you and your plant.
·       Also consider drenching the pot with 2-3 pot volumes of water to help remove insects and residual fertilizer salts.