General Gardening Information
University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
December 2, 2015
Source: Beth Berlin, Extension Educator-Horticulture
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns, Benton & Morrison Counties
Protect Your Young Trees This Winter
By Beth Berlin, University of Minnesota Extension
ST. CLOUD, Minn. (12/2/15) — Due to the mild late fall weather there is still time to protect your trees from winter damage. Young, thin skinned trees like maples, linden, honey locust, crabapple, plum, cherry, and apple are susceptible to irreversible winter damage called sunscald if not protected.
Even in a more mild winter the trees mentioned are still likely to suffer winter damage. Damage on these thin barked, young trees can cause cracks, discoloration, splits, and sunken areas. Sunscald refers to the injury to the living cells just inside the bark due to the fluctuation in day to night temperatures in the winter months. Research has shown that the south, southwest facing sides of the tree trunk, specifically the cambium layer, can reach into the 60’s° F, while the north side of the trunk can remain below freezing. The cambium layer is the layer just below the bark that is where cell growth occurs, causing expansion or secondary growth of the tree. The phloem layer is also damaged which is where the water and nutrients are carried throughout the plant. Those warm temperatures trick the tree out of dormancy only to have lethal freezing occur once the sun sets.
Drought also contributes to the extent of sunscald damage. Together they can cause vertical frost cracks and death to the cambium and phloem layers where infection can occur which will cause decay and canker.
The best way handle sunscald damage is to be proactive and prevent the damage from ever occurring. This can be done with complimentary plantings of shrub species or structures on the south and southwest side of the sensitive tree. At this point in the year using light colored or reflective tree wrap is your best option. Current recommendation is to wrap newly planted trees for the first two winters. However wrapping for a couple additional years on sensitive thin barked tree species may be necessary. Always remove the tree wrap in the spring. If it is left on moisture can be trapped and may provide an environment where infection and disease may occur once the weather has warmed.
Tree wrap can be purchased at most garden centers or found online and is reasonably inexpensive. Therefore it is important to spend a little extra money and time for the first several years after planting a new tree that has thin bark to help ensure the health and longevity of it.
Extension Educator, Horticulture
Although many books have been written about caring for houseplants, few address the particulars of plant care in northern climates. Living this far north, we experience vast seasonal fluctuations, not only in temperatures, but in the intensity and duration of daylight. Because light, water, temperature, humidity, and nutrient requirements of houseplants are all interrelated, we must take these changes into consideration to keep houseplants healthy year round.
Light is the most limiting factor to good houseplant growth indoors. All plants need light for photosynthesis, the creation of food energy essential to maintaining life processes and growth. Without sufficient light, plants will develop weak, spindly growth, and will be more vulnerable to a host of other problems.
Houseplants must be placed where light is bright enough to sustain growth.
A vigorously growing plant is not only easier to keep healthy, it’s more attractive. The amount of light needed varies from one plant to another. Check a reputable reference, then select plants to fit the available light in your specific indoor locations.
In northern latitudes, we change from long hours of daylight in spring and summer to much shorter days in fall and winter. Due to the sun’s angle, winter light is less intense; weather is often cloudier, too. Houseplants may grow better if you move them into brighter windows or nearer to windows so they may receive as much light as possible. Be careful not to place them close enough to be injured by cold; never allow foliage to actually touch window panes.
Houseplants that were fine in a south or west-facing window all winter may sunburn there in late spring or summer. Sheer white curtains can protect against heat and burning sun while allowing adequate amounts of light through to the plants. Or you can move plants back from the brightest, hottest locations. Disregard care tags that tell you to keep houseplants out of direct sunlight, however. Most will benefit from an hour or two of direct light each day, so long as it’s not too hot.
Everyone knows houseplants demand regular watering, but how often they should be watered depends on many factors. Water requirements vary according to the size and type of houseplant, the container, and the potting medium. Environmental conditions such as light, heat, and humidity also affect a plant’s water needs. A houseplant growing actively in good light needs more moisture than one growing slowly in minimal light. Higher temperatures and lower humidity also increase the need for water.
Always water thoroughly until water comes through the pot’s drain holes. Discard excess water that collects in the saucer. Learn to recognize when the plant needs water by feeling the soil. Some plants such as ferns and African violets need water as soon as the soil surface feels dry. The potting medium of many cacti and succulents must dry thoroughly before watering. For most houseplants, allow soil to dry ½ inch or more below the surface, depending on pot size. Water when conditions warrant, not automatically on a rigid schedule.
Plants that don’t need to dry a lot may thrive in “self-watering” containers that make use of reservoirs for sub-irrigation. These containers save time and labor, and can result in excellent growth due to the even supply of moisture they provide.
Optimal temperature ranges vary somewhat among different houseplants. However, most prefer days between 65 and 75 degrees F, with a drop of 10 degrees at night. Plants grown under slightly cooler conditions are more tolerant of lower light intensity than those grown at higher temperatures. Cooler temperatures also reduce the amount of moisture lost from leaf surfaces through transpiration.
Keep houseplants out of cold, drafty locations such as an entryway in winter or near an air-conditioner in summer. Try also to avoid hot, dry spots close to radiators or heat ducts in winter. As long as air is neither excessively hot nor cold, good air circulation, as provided by a ceiling fan or forced air register some distance from the plants, is beneficial.
Many houseplant species originated in tropical rainforests and areas of high humidity, but our homes are usually quite dry once we start heating in fall. Low humidity increases the amount of moisture lost through houseplant leaves, which means you must be careful to water as often as necessary. Plants may develop brown leaf tips when soil is allowed to dry excessively.
Increasing relative humidity helps slow moisture loss and discourages damaging mites and insects that thrive in warm, dry conditions. Don’t mist your plants; it raises humidity only momentarily, but in the process sets the stage for fungal and bacterial leaf spot diseases. Instead, use room humidifiers and group plants together to benefit from moisture they lose through transpiration. You can also place plants on supports in trays of water so that it evaporates around them, but doesn’t wick up through the bottoms of their containers.
People often over-fertilize houseplants in an attempt to encourage vigorous growth. Plants manufacture their own food through photosynthesis, and need fertilizer only as a supplement. Plan to fertilize when plants grow actively, usually spring and summer’s longer days. Then reduce or eliminate fertilization the rest of the year. Plants growing under fluorescent lights won’t experience a seasonal change in light, so they might need fertilizer applications year-round.
Always mix fertilizer ½Â the label recommended strength. It’s easier to repeat an application than to deal with the potential consequences of excess fertilizer–brown leaf tips and margins and burned roots, followed by stunted growth and ultimately, plant death.
There are many houseplant fertilizers on the market. Almost any will do, provided you tailor label recommendations to the time of year and your plants’ needs. Never fertilize a plant in dry soil. Instead, water the plant over a sink or washtub, then water a second time with fertilizer solution.
Dust and grime build-up is unattractive and encourages insect pests. It also filters the light that ultimately reaches leaf tissue for photosynthesis, so it’s particularly important to keep leaves clean in winter, when light is at a premium. Clean large leaves individually with a soft rag moistened in lukewarm water containing a few drops of mild dishwashing soap. Plants with lots of tiny leaves may be turned upside down and swished through a tub of similar water.
Plant shine products often provide a stickier surface on which dust and dirt may cling. A shiny surface also reflects light away from leaves, where it is needed for photosynthesis.
Most houseplants benefit from spending summer out-of-doors, but you must find suitable locations for them. They can take direct sunlight early mornings and late afternoons when the sun is low in the sky, but they must be protected from hot, intense sunlight the rest of the day. The north side of your house is usually a good choice; so is any area shaded by a large tree.
Warm temperatures and drying breezes mean frequent watering outdoors. Increased light results in added growth and the need for regular fertilization. It may also indicate the need to repot plants in larger containers several weeks before bringing them indoors.
Put houseplants outside in early summer when night temperatures begin to approximate those indoors. Take them in when night temperatures cool in late summer or early fall. Don’t wait till frost threatens; the transition from such cold nights to indoor conditions will prove difficult.
Inspect your plants and wash them carefully before bringing them into the house. Spray only if insect pests are present. Once indoors, place plants in your brightest possible windows for several weeks before moving them to their original locations.
As a flower farmer, I start tens of thousands of annual and perennial plants from seed each year. I can select varieties that meet the needs of my customers at a fraction of the cost of pre-grown plugs and liners. From Asclepias to Zinnia, my seeds are ordered and I am ready to start planting in January. If you’ve also selected the seeds to grow in your garden, you might be considering starting some of those plants indoors. Seed starting is a wonderful way to get a jump on the garden season, and can increase the varieties of plants you grow. It can also extend your growing season, making it possible to raise some long season varieties that usually don’t do well in Minnesota.
The last frost date in Alexandria is about May 24 so plan to start your seeds so they are ready to transplant after this date. Many seeds need to be planted just four to six weeks before being moved outdoors. Others mature at a slower rate, and should be started 10 to 12 weeks before being transplanted. (Geraniums, pansies, wax begonias, dusty miller, impatiens, larkspur, lobelia, stocks, leeks, onions and celery need to be started in February.) Timing is important. If seedlings are too young, they will not be strong enough to survive outside. If they are too old, they will grow so big that they crowd each other and compete for light, water and nutrients.
Check the back of your seed packet for recommended starting times.
Select a sterile potting medium that is light and porous. Choose a soilless seed mix, or make your own with equal parts of peat moss, perlite and vermiculite. Wash and sterilize old pots with boiling water. Peat pots, egg cartons, plastic drinking cups and recyclables make good pots for starting seeds. I set my pots in solid plastic trays (plant flats) to minimize water spills. Fluorescent shop lights hanging on adjustable chains are perfect for seed starting. Place your seed flats under the lights, and lower the lights so they are no more than a couple of inches above the flats. Keep the lights on for 14 – 16 hours a day. As your seedlings grow, raise the lights so they are 2-4 inches above the tallest leaves. Keep your seedlings moist, but not wet, and fertilize weekly with ¼ strength all purpose fertilizer after several sets of true leaves appear.
Plants grown indoors must have a “hardening-off” period before transplanting. A couple of weeks before planting outside begin to take your seedlings outdoors for increasing longer periods. Start by placing them in a protected, shady spot in the warmest part of the afternoon. Bring them back inside in the evening. Gradually increase the amount of sun and the time spent outside. By the end of two weeks your seedlings can remain outside in a sunny area until you are ready to plant. If they are not gradually accustomed to the outdoor environment their leaves may be scorched by sun or wind; they may even wilt and die.
Extension Educator, Horticulture
Compost soils help improve soil structure, porosity, and density-this creates a better environment for plant growth. (See the US Composting Council web site for more benefits)
Yes. Compost soil will improve the water holding capacity and also add viable nutrients that are necessary to growing a healthy lawn.
It is up to the individual person. We recommend buying products in bulk when doing a larger yard project: top dressing, making new beds or establishing a garden. Bags are handy when repotting plants, adding additional soil to flower beds or when little soil product is needed.
- Weed Control: Mulches deny light to weed seedlings that they need to germinate.
- Temperature Control: Mulches insulate plants from drastic temperature changes, keeping them cooler in the summer months and warmer in the winter months.
- Attractive Appearance: Mulches provide a neat, uniform look to your landscape.
- Moisture Retention: Mulches reduce the speed of water evaporation while keeping an even supply of water on the upper levels of the soil.
- Prevention of Compaction: Mulches break the falls of water drops, which can cause the soil to compact and inhibit plant growth.
- Soil Texture Improvement: Mulches benefit soil, for example, clay soils get improved aeration and sandy soils retain water better.
Apply the mulch evenly 2 to 4 inches deep. Level the mulch by raking or with your hands. A four inch depth is an excellent weed deterrent.
Don't pack the mulch down. Leave room around the plant stems and tree trunks. After application, wet the mulch thoroughly, and then pull the mulch back a few inches away from the plant stems and trunks. This allows adequate air circulation to the base of the plant.
Spring and Fall are the ideal times to apply mulch. This will help reduce soil temperature, save water, and prevent weeds.
Colored mulch will typically maintain its color for more than a year.
- Hint: To make mulch appear brighter, use a rake to fluff. By raking, the mulch on the underside is brought to the top.
Minnesota State Horticultural Society – Great source for gardening tips
Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association – Provides information on landscaping materials and ideas
US Composting Council – Excellent source for information on all aspects of composting process, STA testing, etc.
Bonnie Mohr’s Studio – Check out Bonnie’s online studio