February Ramble - 27 East

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February Ramble

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Two half flats of Trollius seed and one full flat of Thermopsis seed. The cold of February and March should be enough for vernalization that will result in germination from May onward.  Yellow plastic tags contain the seed history, and the mesh (stapled to the wooden flats) keeps curious mice and birds from feeding on seeds and sprouts.
ANDREW MESSINGER

Two half flats of Trollius seed and one full flat of Thermopsis seed. The cold of February and March should be enough for vernalization that will result in germination from May onward. Yellow plastic tags contain the seed history, and the mesh (stapled to the wooden flats) keeps curious mice and birds from feeding on seeds and sprouts. ANDREW MESSINGER

The morning after setting the flats outside they were covered with snow. The snow keeps the flats cold but also insulated. As the snow melts, stockpiled snow will be piled on to keep things cold and moist as long as possible. ANDREW MESSINGER

The morning after setting the flats outside they were covered with snow. The snow keeps the flats cold but also insulated. As the snow melts, stockpiled snow will be piled on to keep things cold and moist as long as possible. ANDREW MESSINGER

The Vivosun germination heat mat (top) comes with the mat, thermostat and temperature probe for about $25 on Amazon.  The Jump Start germination station (below) includes a heating mat (no thermostat or probe), a flat, cells and dome for $35. Add another $55 for a thermostat and it’s pretty clear which is the better value by far. Each product will heat one standard flat, or about 11 by 22 inches.  ANDREW MESSINGER

The Vivosun germination heat mat (top) comes with the mat, thermostat and temperature probe for about $25 on Amazon. The Jump Start germination station (below) includes a heating mat (no thermostat or probe), a flat, cells and dome for $35. Add another $55 for a thermostat and it’s pretty clear which is the better value by far. Each product will heat one standard flat, or about 11 by 22 inches. ANDREW MESSINGER

Autor

Hampton Gardener®

I’ve roused from my winter hibernation/slumber ever so slightly to do some reading, seeding, ordering and planning.

Every day I search for signs of spring, watching the snowdrop buds slowly swell, the magnolia buds plump up, the days grow longer. The winter annual weeds in the driveway are showing minuscule spots of new green along the length of crushed bluestone. The house finches have been exploring the years old nest in the porch rafters outside my office as I decide if this avian apartment needs a total renovation — by me.

And yes, like you, I’ve been procrastinating. I have seed that should have been set outdoors in their winter flats weeks ago so they can go through their vernalization, but I didn’t get them out until last week. This year, only two half flats of Trollius seed and one flat of Thermopsis. They won’t germinate for months, but all need the cold to make them germinate. I’ve never tried the Thermopsis from seed so this will be a new experience. But I have done the Trollius many times, and I’m especially looking forward to the T. “alabaster.” I’d love lots more of them in my garden, but at $25 a pot at the garden centers, a bit of patience will save me a bundle.

I was even able to force myself in front of the computer with seed packets on the left, a germination chart on one side of my screen and my calendar on the other side as I set up my indoor and outdoor germination dates. My LED plant lights have arrived as has the stand, and now I’m just waiting for my heating pad (with built-in thermostat) and in about six weeks that setup will get going.

I soooo wanted to grow sweet peas along the fencing of my trial garden last year, but I forgot. So, this year, I’ll start those seeds in peat pots and grow the seedlings under the grow lights until I can get them outdoors. However, one thing I’m missing is instructions on moving seedlings and small plants from LED lighting into natural light. Another learning experience. If you’d like to grow sweet peas and get a jump on the plants, they can be started in peat pots indoors in mid-March.

Now comes the question of when things can be planted outdoors on the East End. There’s been a great deal of chatter about the changes in the local hardiness maps and charts. My last reference was data from up to 2012, which said that the frost-free date in Southampton was April 24. But if you go by the newest data it seems that our first frost-free date could be April 20. For the risk takers among you, go for the April 20 date, but I’m a conservative gardener so I still think the 24 is a better bet.

Many readers seem to have an interest in Camelias so I was happy to hear that the Horticultural Alliance of the Hamptons has an active Camellia group. They’ll next meet on Saturday, April 13, at 10 a.m. at the Bridgehampton Community House. You are warmly invited, and what a great opportunity.

It’s time to make sure your arborist has you on the schedule for dormant oil sprays. This simple step, which you can do on your own for trees shorter than 15 feet tall, is critical on fruit trees but it’s also important on roses for disease management and on magnolias if you’ve had a magnolia scale issue. There are a number of organic and petroleum-based oils that can be used, and when applied at the right time they are extremely effective.

For smaller properties with trees (and shrubs) no taller than 15 feet you can use a hand pump sprayer or a battery/electric sprayer. There are a number of battery-powered sprayers on the market that can handle up to five gallons, but before buying one of these make sure it will handle the height of your tree, which in most cases will be 15 feet or less. Northern Tool has a number of sprayers, and I’ve used this one, tinyurl.com/3jpvv83p, for a number of years. It can be powered by a small dry cell (12-volt) battery or hooked up to a garden tractor accessory outlet. It’s got an adjustable brass nozzle and 15 feet of hose and is only $130.

This is also the time of the year when I head up the street to where beech trees grow as a native understory in the woods. Years ago, I learned that the twigs from this tree are great for garden stakes because the twigs can be cut 4 or 5 feet long and their fan-type horizontal branches make the twigs perfect for garden staking that blends in really well as plants grow up and around it. I’ve found the twigs really helpful in my Echinacea garden, where the twigs keep the stems from falling over into the driveway and parking area. Once installed, they simply disappear, and onlookers never seem to notice them.

However, with the various issues we’re having with beeches I began to wonder if this practice should be abandoned. The feedback from the experts indicates that if you’re taking the beech cuttings on your property, it’s probably safe. They did caution, however, not to move the twigs from property to property or from other locations on your property. In my case, where this particular garden is located (in the Catskills), the beech nematode has not yet been found in the native stands of beech.

Along with my long-term trials of several weather stations has come the ability to record and observe soil temperatures in one of my garden areas with a probe that transmits the information to a screen in my office. I had a soil probe at 3 inches below the surface but moved it down to 6 inches early last fall feeling that this depth would give more meaningful readings.

It’s been a very interesting exercise. This probe is connected to my Ambient Weather WS 5000 and transmits to my office, which is 100 feet from the station and located upstate, where the air temperature in the winter often goes down to zero. In January we had a two-week period when the air temperature never went above freezing and at night it was often below 10 degrees. We had two snowfalls that left 5 inches of snow that melted then 8 inches after a two-day thaw in which the ground was visible. During the whole period the soil 6 inches below never went below 34 degrees.

Keep in mind that the snow is a good insulator, but I would have expected the soil to have frozen at 6 inches. It never did. I won’t make any other assumptions until I dig up the probe in the spring to ensure that it somehow didn’t end up deeper. What I think I’m learning, though, is that we should be paying more attention to our soil temperatures as we’ve learned so much about roots in the past decade and especially how active tree roots are even in cold (not frozen) soils.

I know from your comments that many of you pay heed to my yearly advice on using a preemergent herbicide on your lawns. Keep in mind that I don’t recommend that you need to use this herbicide every year, but now there’s a new reason to consider it. Japanese stiltgrass has become a big problem in many lawns, and just like crabgrass, the main target of a lawn preemergent, the stiltgrass is an annual weed that can be easily managed.

Since crabgrass has never been a big issue in my lawn I usually hand-pull it in the few spots where it shows up. However, two years ago I noticed larger patches of Japanese stiltgrass that made spot control difficult, but the weed was still limited to very specific areas. I was able to buy a small bag of a preemergent last spring and applied it only to those areas where I knew the stiltgrass had been present. Yes, it worked.

You can’t get complacent, though, as just a few seeds that end up germinating are the precursor for the following year’s outbreak. I’ll do one more application in the same general areas this spring when the forsythia opens then watch to see what and who turns up as the summer progresses. Then a plan, if necessary, for next year.

Always on the lookout for new places to spend money on plants and garden supplies I found True Leaf Market in Salt Lake City, Utah, (trueleafmarket.com) and what an interesting place. In business since 1974, they have a very extensive website and offer a wide range of non-GMO seeds and garden supplies that we don’t often see in the East. After looking around, they remind me a bit of Johnny’s with more selections in some areas and fewer in others. Definitely worth taking a look, especially if you’re an organic gardener and into sustainable practices.

You still have time to get out and prune your fruit trees like your apples and pears, blueberries, and raspberries. If you need a simple guide on how to do berry and fruit tree pruning, Stark Brothers (starkbros.com) has great material in their “Growing Guide” section at the top right of their homepage.

If you start your own veggies from seed indoors you should be using a heating mat to help with germination. The Vivosun 10”x20.75” heating mat with a digital thermostat and soil temperature probe can be found online for about $25. I’ve also seen a Jump Start Germination Station that includes a standard flat and 2-inch plastic dome with a heating pad for $35 without a thermostat or probe. This means that this unit will heat the soil as much as 20 degrees above the ambient air temperature but without any heat control. This is bad news since this can raise the soil temperature to over 80 degrees, which is much warmer than most seeds need or do well with. You can add on a thermostat but this adds $55 to the cost. The Vivosun is clearly a better value even if you add on the cost of a flat and a dome.

Order your plants, order your seeds, gather your supplies. The 2024 gardening season is upon us and it always happens quicker than we think. Grow something different this year. Explore and experiment. And of course, keep growing.

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