Sunday, May 24, 2015

Almost a Frost

I'm not certain what happened, but the local weather stations and weather service were reporting lows of 45 to 50 degrees.  Temperatures in my garden plunged to 36.

Fortunately, I was still awake at the time and immediately watered the surrounding grass. Temperatures rebounded to 38, falling back toward 36 just before sunrise.

Once again, there doesn't seem to be any damage, and that was the last night that temperatures have any possibility of falling that low.  Still, it proves that it's always wise to keep an eye out.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Four Weeks, Little Rain

We did receive about 0.05" of rain yesterday as a cold front blew through, but that brings our total over the last thirty days to 0.09" of rain in total.

I can easily hold the gardens, but the lawn becomes a major problem as temperatures rise into the nineties and stay there for a week.  So I've made an executive decision.

The lawn is going to be allowed to go dormant for the first time in nine years.  If rainfall resumes normally, I'll also resume irrigation, but that doesn't seem likely.

As I mentioned below, Kentucky bluegrass has no major issues with this.  It'll go dormant and spring back when rains resume, requiring only about 1/4" of rainfall or irrigation every two weeks to keep the roots alive.

For those with fescue or rye lawns, the dormancy mechanism isn't quite so good and the grass will die in a few months.  However, 1/2" of rain or irrigation per week will be sufficient to keep it alive, if not particularly attractive.

We Got Away With It...Cold

And cold it was.  I recorded a low of 39° in the gardens this morning just before sunrise.  The official low at the more heavily built-up airport was 41°.  Since I normally show a five to six degree difference, the excess watering helped enhance my temperatures by three degrees.

Initial evaluation shows absolutely no damage in the gardens, although I wouldn't be terribly surprised if the most sensitive plants showed minor burns by the end of today.

Tonight's low is estimated to be around 45°, which is still quite cold, but would give me a minimum temperature of 39° in and of itself.  Just to be sure, I'll lay down a light protective layer of water to guard against lower than projected temperatures.

We're projected to be hitting highs in the low 90's by Monday, so this unusual late-season shot of cold air looks like the last issue I'll have for a while.  Next up?  Guarding against slugs.

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Very Late Frost...Maybe

Our weather is wobbling all over the place this spring (except without any rain), with potentially freezing temperatures tonight and 90 and humid by Memorial Day.  Tonight's potential frost is what concerns me, as the plants are well-prepared for 90 degree weather and won't mind it a bit.

You can keep off a light frost by irrigating the gardens before or at sunset, deeply watering.  Moist soil holds much more heat than cold soil, and brings warmth up from the lower levels very, very well.  Studies show a 5° F difference in surface air temperatures even at 6 AM the following morning when the sun is already rising.

I also run the grass' irrigation system around sunset, and it's currently running now.  Twenty to thirty minutes will dampen the soil and deposit plenty of moisture on the grass blades, which can slowly evaporate (and carry off heat from the grass) all night long.  I'll probably touch it up around or just after midnight to make certain that the air over the grass is moist and warmer.

That doesn't benefit the grass, which won't be harmed by frost, but helps in the adjacent gardens.  Like carbon dioxide, water is a greenhouse gas--but a very strong greenhouse gas.  Infrared radiation trying to escape the soil into space has a better chance of being captured by moist air than by dry air.

The generally more humid air will hold and reflect back more heat.  Additionally, if temperatures drop below the local saturation point, water will condense back on the lawn and plants, releasing copious amounts of heat as it does so.  Essentially, I'm creating a light fog and using it to my advantage.

Here, the goal is to keep the dew point well above 32 degrees, as well as to attempt to keep the air temperature far enough over 32 that frost isn't possible.

I'd estimate I have a 95% chance of making it through tonight with minimal to no damage, and a 5% chance that the lowest-lying plants in the garden will be damaged but not killed.  I can recover damage if I have to, but I'd rather not.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Poor Dahlia Tuber Survival

I planted the dahlia tubers some time ago and noted that the survival of the more common strains was very poor while others was excellent.  I've noted these below.

Blue Boy:  Zero survival rate, although the fact that I was working from one tuber that survived the mole invasion last year probably had something to do with that.  I replaced these this year as they're incredible plants and treating them as annuals doesn't bother me if that's what I have to do.

Color Spectacle:  I bought these at Home Depot, and they survived very well.  Some of the splits were given away, one found a new home in a huge pot on the patio.

Sky Angel:  A Home Depot closeout buy some years ago, these tubers perform extremely well.  Every year I split and give the daughters away.

Sun Lady:  Zero survival rate, and the tubers were rich and large last fall.  I replaced these as well since the plants are gorgeous and if they have to be treated as annuals I'm willing to do that.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Milorganite on Arborvitae

Another Dear Reader question, in a quieter season for such things.  I get these from my search results, plus questions people ask me, the rare comment on the blog, or e-mails I receive with questions.

Question:  Is Milorganite good for Arborvitae?

Answer:  The simple answer is just "Yes."  Use at bag rate is very good for almost every shrub, plant, or tree I can name.

The more complex answer is that, while it depends a bit, we need to explore further.  "Arborvitae" is a general term for many species, all of which play well with Milorganite and will enjoy both the iron and the nitrogen.  In my case, I have Thuja Green Giant (Thuja standishii x plicata), and they flourish on any organic fertilizer.  Or synthetic for that matter.

Growth rates in good conditions will increase markedly if they're fed, so that may be a consideration if you wish to keep your shrubs at a given height.  In my case, they're encouraged to grow as tall as they wish, and they're currently six years old and approaching fifteen feet tall (after starting at a bit under two feet).

Milorganite is unlikely to overfeed the shrub, but be careful that the root mass is keeping up with the greenery.  During Hurricane Sandy, a few of my Thuja tilted a bit and had to be pulled back into place and tethered.

3 1/2 Weeks, No Rain

Today marks three and a half weeks with no appreciable rain--which I define as rain that actually moistens the soil further down than the surface.  Not to mention the well above-average temperatures and generally windy conditions on top of it.

The gardens are in, and those are bolstered with Terra Sorb in the hole with each plant.  Watering weekly is entirely sufficient in this case, although very young plants do need more moisture.  I've been watering twice a week for two weeks now as the plants were in at the beginning of May.  Just a pinch of Terra Sorb (Medium granule size) in the hole under the plant helps hold enough water for the plant to go several extra days.

The grass is another story.  I've irrigated twice, but it still doesn't look very good and I'm not going to step up the watering level.  If this weather continues, I'll keep the lawn up through Memorial Day and then let it go dormant.  Kentucky bluegrass has an amazing ability to tolerate terribly dry and hot summers by staying asleep, requiring only about a quarter inch of rain or irrigation every two weeks to keep the root systems alive.

This is not an option on fescue or rye lawns, which have weak dormancy mechanisms.  Fortunately, neither require the water that bluegrass does, and half an inch of water or irrigation per week will be sufficient to keep them alive.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Milk and So On

Extended evening hours and warmer weather certainly are nice!

I applied 8 oz per thousand square feet of whole milk, plus 3 oz per thousand kelp, 3 oz per thousand humic acid, and 3 oz per thousand sodium laureth sufate solution.  Those can sit until the next rainfall, which will probably be Friday.

Milk seems to have an odd effect in the lawn, gently enhancing performance on soils that are already resource-tuned and organic.  I'm not certain that it would do much of anything on a poorer soil, however, so this isn't a step I generally recommend.

Kelp contains minor amounts of growth hormones, useful in developing spring root systems.  It also contains just about every element possible, so any temporary shortfalls can be supplied via foliar input.  The amount of organic matter is minor, but I'll take it.

Humic acid encourages fungal development and may help a bit with water retention.  Since the latter isn't an issue in my soil, it's not a real consideration.

Sodium laureth sulfate flocculates (gathers together) soils, making them softer and allowing water and air to penetrate more easily.  Of all the things I used today, this is the one with the greatest impact.  Rather than purchase SLES online (which you can do), it's just as easy to use 3 ounces per thousand square feet of Suave or White Rain shampoo, or the generic baby shampoo off the shelf.

Application of shampoo can be made monthly until the soil loosens up, and should be combined with organic feeding and a soil test and resource balancing.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Everything's Late

Post the rather severe winter we just had, plus a rather cool and wet early spring, everything in the gardens is delayed.  So is the lawn, which is back but not growing yet this year and still a touch patchy with dormancy.

The next week or so should change that as temperatures rise to a bit above normal.  It's far too early to estimate when the 850 sprouting plants in the cellar will go out to harden off in the north garden, but if the weather is average it should be around May first.

So far, the comment's been made, "It's too bad you can't grow crocus around here."  You can see that fact below, and I think this particular patch started as three or four bulbs several years ago.

As always, click on any image to embiggen it.

IMG 0442

This is the first year in several years that the Siberian iris did well.  And when they do well, they do very, very well.

IMG 0444

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

And We're Off

Actually, we were off the evening of February 13th, but first sprout is today.

I started the cleome, Easter eggplant, and celosia.  I've found the celosia benefit from a very early sprout and tend to bloom far sooner if they get it instead of waiting for March.

At this rate, by Thursday or so they'll be moving down under the lights and the second batch will be starting.  That will be the red and blue salvia.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Countdown Begins

Sure, we're only ten minutes over the line into February.  Close enough.  Solar spring (the time of fastest daylight change upward in the Northern Hemisphere) starts on Thursday.

The first of my plants, the cleome and the Easter eggplant, start around Valentine's Day.  They've been cold stratifying in the garage since Thanksgiving.  That's far more time than they require, but a little extra never hurts.

Plants such as lisianthus should either start immediately...or you're already late.  Those tend to do best started very early, but fortunately anybody growing those already knows that.  I tried one year and they were difficult enough that I vowed never again.

Everything else except the cleome and Easter eggplant waits until late in February at the earliest. This year, I plan on starting the celosia much earlier as I've found they benefit from a longer season. Those will probably be in the late February batch.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Winter Gardening

Most of this season is pressing your nose against the window and staring out into the bleak winter weather.  Fortunately, that's not always true.

I had transplanted a young marigold indoors in early October just before frost.  That bloomed reliably until about two weeks ago when it finally gave up.  I planted some celosia seeds in a tray pack and those are happily growing on my windowsill now, enhanced by a 6 watt LED bulb an inch away.  It should be ready for transplant into the windowsill pot around the second week of January.

I ordered my gardens for 2015 from Park Seed and Swallowtail Garden Seeds.  Swallowtail is a new company for me, they have Figaro dahlia seeds by color instead of as a mix.  Since the taller dahlia performed so well in the gardens in 2014, I had wanted to expand their usage next year.

For the most part, the plants are the same as last year.  However, the color design calls for decreasing the orange and increasing the red to compensate.  To accomplish that, half a flat of Figaro red dahlia and an extra flat of Magellan scarlet zinnia are called for.

The Profusion zinnia also perform very well, so I've increased their usage in the garden.  I favor the Fire, a very reddish orange, but the yellow were well-received as well.  The orange is very nice, but as I'm cutting back use of orange in the garden next year I'll be using fewer of those.

Purple hues are new for me in 2014, and to work with the Blue Boy dahlia (actually a deep purple), I added Figaro purple dahlia as well.  The colors vary considerably among the plants, but all are more than close enough to accent the Blue Boy.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

2014 Lawn Additions

Lawn additions, like the garden, were very similar to last year.  About the only changes were the addition of a little cracked corn early on to combat a slight case of snow mold I'd had during the winter, and the reduction of the winterizer amount to 0.87 pounds of nitrogen per thousand.

That reduction was also to fight any potential snow mold this winter, as well as to account for the fact that winter descended a little early--and that was all the fertilizer I had left!

Date N P K Iron Organics Other Notes
5/13/2014 1.21 0.21 0.34 0.00 25.0 Soybean Meal, Cracked Corn
8/1/2014 1.05 0.30 0.15 0.00 15.0 Soybean Meal
9/5/2014 1.05 0.30 0.15 0.00 15.0 Soybean Meal
10/1/2014 1.05 0.30 0.15 0.00 15.0 Soybean Meal
11/12/2014 0.87 0.00 0.15 0.00 0.0 Vigoro 29-0-4

Total per K ft:       5.23    1.11    0.94    0.00    70.0    700 active organic total   

2014 Garden Additions

Garden additions were around the same as last year, just somewhat better distributed monthly.  The heavy-hitter was Milorganite, as usual, with only a small boost of ferrous sulfate in July to deepen leaf colors slightly as the calcium I added kicked in.

Date N P K Iron Organics Other Notes
5/5/2014 0.55 0.22 0.00 0.44 11.0 Milorganite
6/1/2014 0.90 0.36 0.00 0.72 18.0 Milorganite
7/1/2014 1.05 0.42 0.00 1.42 21.0 Milo, Ferrous Sulfate
8/1/2014 0.90 0.36 0.00 0.72 18.0 Milorganite

Total per K ft:    3.40    1.36    0.00    2.48    68.0    136.0 active organic total  

Does Milorganite Deter Rabbits?

Another Dear Reader question.

The answer is "no."  I've never noticed that Milorganite did anything to deter rabbits from the lawn or gardens.  For about the first twelve hours or so, it may discourage them a tiny bit, but the initial scent fades quickly and after that there's no impact on rabbit populations.

What will work is a simple spray:

1/2 tbsp Tabasco sauce (or any hot sauce, the hotter the better)
1/2 tsp dish soap, any kind
1/4 tsp Elmer's glue (optional, but helps it stick)
32 ounces water

Spray on plants, only a mist is necessary.  The flavor is distasteful to rabbits and repels them very well.

That formula is very give or take on amounts, and it's about where I am at the present moment via experimentation of what works best to repel the beasts and also has some staying power on the leaves.  This will be good until the next rainfall and even beyond that if the rainfall is light.