Sunday, May 31, 2015

Dahlia Getting Eaten

Again this year, the rabbits seem to be rather hungry.  Fortunately, I'm having far less of a problem with them than I did in 2014.

This year, the favored snack seems to be my Blue Boy dahlia.  Which is a bit odd as rabbits aren't supposed to care for dahlia when there are other, more preferable plants around.  But there it is.  They're even ignoring the Sun Lady dahlia between the three that are being eaten, and the Color Spectacle not far away.

I sprayed with 1 tsp Tabasco sauce in water (plus a few drops of soap and Elmer's glue), plus sprinkled a tiny amount of dried blood around the plants as a temporary scent deterrent.  That should take care of the problem, but if not I'll step up the amount of Tabasco sauce used in the solution until the rabbits go away.

How Long for Milorganite To Work?

Yet another Dear Reader question from my search results.  I can't remember if I covered this before, but it bears repeating anyway.

Milorganite has some water-soluble nitrogen, and definitely has a lot of water-soluble iron, so you might notice some change in 72 to 96 hours after irrigation or rainfall.

However, the organic nitrogen and biological effects won't be seen for at least three weeks.  Even then, they're not the sudden green-up of synthetic fertilizers.  Slowly, over time and with continued use, the lawn will continue to look better.

Organics are not a fast cure, which is actually good.  We don't want them to be.  Fast cures tend to also peter out quickly, whereas the organic fertilizers you're using will be slowly improving your lawn and gardens for years to come.

Can Milorganite Be Overapplied?

Here's a Dear Reader question that showed up in my search results, probably not coincidentally with the question being asked on a forum where I post.

And yes, Milorganite can certainly be overapplied.  Milo contains a maximum of 40% water-soluble nitrogen of the nitrogen in the product, or a grand total of a maximum of 2% of the product weight in total.  As such, fifty pounds per thousand square feet would be the absolute maximum application rate allowable under most circumstances, and I wouldn't go that high for other reasons.

A localized spill of Milorganite will definitely exceed the fifty pound per thousand square foot rate.

If this should happen to you, scoop up what you can.  Then rake the rest as widely as possible, then follow up by scratching into the grass with your fingers, spreading the spill as far as you can.

Post that, if you can irrigate with at least an inch of water in that area, it will help to dilute and disperse the free nitrogen into the soil.

If a burned area results, treat it as you would any other burn.  Water well, and reseed that area in late summer if required.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Still No Rain

We're officially at 0.22" at the local airport for the month of May so far (4.10" being far more normal).  On my back deck, the recorded amount is 0.18".

The gardens are holding because I'm watering them, and they're actually flourishing in the heat and sun.  At this point, they're as far along as they would be by the middle of June, although I had a highly unusual loss of six plants (out of 650) this year.

The grass is blasting and dropping toward dormancy, with about 150 square feet nearly dormant at this point and the rest highly stressed.

On the up side, we're forecast for nearly an inch of rain over the weekend.  Now to see if we get it.

What can you do if this happens to you?  Not much, except water.  In my case, it's simply pointless to try to hold the lawn, so I let it slide.  The gardens, of course, will be maintained through the season.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Feeding Your Gardens

It's the end of May, and most of the garden is in bloom at this point, although the dahlia are a little later than other plants.  Every year, people ask me what I do.  Really, it's easy.

Weekly:  I apply a half rate feed of Miracle Gro to the gardens.  In my case, this is easy as I have a watering system with an EZ-Flo fertigation system attached.  The recommended application is 1 packet of Miracle Gro per 500 square feet, I apply it over 1,000.

Monthly:  I apply either 1 bag (36 pounds) of Milorganite or 1 bag (50 pounds) of soybean meal across the garden, or 18 pounds per thousand square feet of Milorganite or 25 pounds per thousand soybean meal.  This begins to feed the plants two to three weeks after application, and continues to feed gently for several months.

I tend to discontinue the monthly organics as of August as that feeding will continue to work through early October.  The weekly Miracle Gro is discontinued in mid September.

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.