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.