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Hamptons Life

May 14, 2018 12:41 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

May Ramble: Shipping Problems And Successes, Fertilizing, And Careful Mulching

Klehm’s ships their plants in heavy, square cardboard sleeves that are the same height as the shipping box. Plants arrive undisturbed and are never crushed or damaged.  ANDREW MESSINGER
May 14, 2018 2:18 PM

We’re just about smack in the middle of spring and it’s not quite turning out as I had thought.

There was a hot spell for several days in early May and that played havoc on some plants but not others. Those closer to the cooling effects of the ocean saw a magnificent display from their Magnolias, while those a mile or so inland where it got much warmer saw their Magnolias bloom then blast with a very short flowering time. But there are other signs and chores that spring always brings, so onward we go.

Unboxing week—the week when all the nurseries seem to ship their roots, shoots, and potted delights—was pretty intense, at least at my house. UPS and FedEx dropped more than a dozen boxes in three days and the results were pretty much as expected.

I’d ordered five pots of Peruvian lilies from Wayside Gardens. My earlier experience with the revived Wayside two years ago was not a good one. This time, the box arrived crushed. It was shipped on a Thursday, so it sat in a truck somewhere over a weekend and the packing material was foam beads (polystyrene?) which I haven’t seen in years. Actually, I couldn’t believe they used the foam and wanted to make sure it wasn’t the biodegradable type so I bit into one. That was my first mistake. Then I took a couple and placed them into a glass of water where they sat for several hours. They did not degrade at all and continued to float on the surface giving every indication that they were indeed chemical-based packing beads that in this day and age are pretty undesirable.

So, Wayside continues to get my black thumb award. But the others, Klehm’s, Romence and Bluestone, arrived in perfect condition with the plants being well-packed and undamaged from shipping. So, these three vendors continue to get lots of green thumbs for both shipping and the high quality of their plants. But now the decision is which to plant first.

The 70 or so plants were mostly in gallon pots and they can stay in those pots for weeks as long as they get adequate water and light. The Bluestone plants come in coconut coir pots and, while degradable, the pots break down ever so slowly. I like to get these plants out of the coir and planted first. Since I only have time to plant on weekends (sound familiar?) the other plants in gallon pots will be just fine while they wait their turn.

While just about everything else was slow this spring, the grass just couldn’t have been happier. Our northern grasses thrive when it’s cool and damp and it looks like mowing started this year during the same week we always start. Lots to keep in mind, though, as we get back to lawn care. This is the perfect time to feed your lawn—not a month ago and not on April 1, when the law says you can begin putting down fertilizer. The grass plants have had some time to expand and spread their root systems and we don’t want to feed the lawn too early as that just encourages shoot or blade growth at the expense of root growth. Now through the end of the month is the perfect time to do your first lawn feeding.

How much? Well if you actually have control of your lawn and not your landscaper or gardener, I’d suggest no more than a half a pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. The fertilizer bag should give you spreader settings for this rate and then you need to figure out when your next feedings will be and how much nitrogen you want to put down in total for the year. If you’re not picking up your clippings and mulching them in place, there’s really no need to apply more than a couple of pounds of nitrogen a year with the last feeding taking place late in the summer or early in the fall.

Keep in mind also that if you’re putting down a pre-emergent herbicide for crabgrass, you can’t do any seeding until the fall—which is a much better time anyway for seeding. I’m always tempted to patch up the lawn and even though I don’t use a pre-emergent I only patch large areas that have died out or have been damaged. Smaller areas of just a few inches will fill in naturally if you have any grasses in your lawn that grow from rhizomes or tillers, like bluegrasses and ryes.

In the vegetable garden, you should already have your first crop of greens, radishes and leeks. Asparagus shoots should be harvested for the next week or two then left to grow in. Remember the importance of successional plantings. Don’t plant all your peas at once. Instead, make plantings every four to seven days to extend the harvesting period and follow the same routine with your salad greens. You can probably set out your warm season crops like eggplants, tomatoes and melons in the next week or so, but again, don’t plant them all at once just in case we have a cold snap. Hold a few back and plant them in a week.

When direct seeding cucumbers and squashes, these two can be seeded so a few go in one week, then again the following week and maybe even a third seeding a week later.

The veggies need to be fed as well. Know the nutrient requirements of each crop and when to feed them and how. You only get one chance to feed radishes since they grow so quickly but many of the longer crops can be fed at planting then periodically through the growing season by top dressing or encircling the plant with a ring of fertilizer. Liquid fertilizers can be used as well but I think the liquids are good for supplemental feedings and not as a primary source of nutrients.

And then there are the mulches. We’ve learned a great deal in the past few years about how detrimental mulches can be if not applied and managed carefully. Around trees and shrubs, the mulches should never come into contact with the trunks and stems as this encourages moisture retention and rot in a critical area that needs good aeration. Mulches can also be a breeding ground for some insects and it can be absolute heaven for slugs. You should be mindful of the source of your mulch as well as any compost you use. Do you know where it comes from and what it’s made of?

Monitor for insects. Early detection makes control very easy. Lose track on who’s present and where, and little critters like aphids on roses and whitefly on vegetables can quickly get out of control and become more difficult to control.

Ticks are out in full force, as are the tick experts. Amazing some of the misinformation the media spewed out last year. A few important points: Ticks don’t jump. You need to come into contact with a plant that has a tick on it, then the tick hitches a ride followed by a meal. A prime source of ticks out here is at the beaches in the beach grasses and shrubs. The good news is that most of the experts seem to agree that if you check yourself every day, carefully, and find a tick within 24 hours of it attaching to you, there is little chance of getting one of the tick diseases.

I always apply DEET (to clothing only) before going into nature and I’ve even begun to spray some of my clothing with permethrin, which will repel ticks for as long as a month. For this nature boy, the risks of these two chemicals are far, far less than the aftermath of any of the tick diseases. Been there, done that. Keep growing.

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