The April Ramble - 27 East

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The April Ramble

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Way too early arrivals from Roots and Rhizomes. Not the environmentally sensible packaging we see these days from most other vendors. Plastic pots, plastic gizmos to keep the pots stable in the box. Below are the bare root plants which seem to be Dutch imports but not indicated on that packing. ANDREW MESSINGER

Way too early arrivals from Roots and Rhizomes. Not the environmentally sensible packaging we see these days from most other vendors. Plastic pots, plastic gizmos to keep the pots stable in the box. Below are the bare root plants which seem to be Dutch imports but not indicated on that packing. ANDREW MESSINGER

This is what a bare-root Hosta looks like. About $22 with shipping from Roots & Rhizomes but $35 from a different vendor in a 4-inch pot. By the end of the summer you’d never know which was which, but with R&R if this is a Dutch import you never know what it really is until it matures. ANDREW MESSINGER

This is what a bare-root Hosta looks like. About $22 with shipping from Roots & Rhizomes but $35 from a different vendor in a 4-inch pot. By the end of the summer you’d never know which was which, but with R&R if this is a Dutch import you never know what it really is until it matures. ANDREW MESSINGER

Early arrivals get potted, tagged and set in an open flat atop 4-by-4 lumber.  Keeping the plants off the ground aids in drainage and keeps the slugs at bay.  These plants are under a roof overhang to prevent rainy washouts and they get several hours of morning sun.  The new Hosta is in the pot on the right with the crown just at the soil surface and the roots reaching to the pot bottom. The Epimedium (which arrived potted) on the left will be planted shortly, the others later in the season. ANDREW MESSINGER

Early arrivals get potted, tagged and set in an open flat atop 4-by-4 lumber. Keeping the plants off the ground aids in drainage and keeps the slugs at bay. These plants are under a roof overhang to prevent rainy washouts and they get several hours of morning sun. The new Hosta is in the pot on the right with the crown just at the soil surface and the roots reaching to the pot bottom. The Epimedium (which arrived potted) on the left will be planted shortly, the others later in the season. ANDREW MESSINGER

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Hampton Gardener®

  • Publication: Residence
  • Published on: Apr 18, 2024
  • Columnist: Andrew Messinger

April got off to a typical start. For most of the first two weeks of the month it was cool and damp with a few sunny and warm intervals. Not at all atypical, though there are interesting reports from gardeners on the North Fork that the season got off to a very slow start there with some areas reporting late blooming on crocus and daffodils — both of which respond to soil temperatures. And so, for early spring here’s my April ramble.

Cold and wet soil can be the most challenging of situations for spring plantings. New trees and shrubs seem to be able to handle the cold and wet soil but the perennials that arrive in small pots or bare root can languish and suffer. Catalog nurseries (aka mail-order nurseries) need to get plants out of their winter cold frames and cold greenhouses early so they’ll tolerate shipping while still mostly dormant. But what do you do when these often tiny specimens arrive via the post office or UPS way too early?

Many of these bare-root plants are now costing $20 and upward while bare-root fruit trees can run $40 and more. They’ll store or keep for a short time if they are unboxed and kept in a cool spot out of sunlight, but for many of them I’d suggest interim potting, a new phrase.

Interim potting takes place when you simply can’t plant on the day or within a few days of receiving bare-root plants, mostly perennials. Most of these plants will do much better if they go into 1-to-2-quart plastic pots (the black ones). Use a soil that is half garden soil or a combination of garden soil and compost with the balance being a product like Pro-Mix. Mix them together, lightly moisten and use this as your basic short-term potting soil.

First put a couple of inches of the soil on the bottom of the pot. Soak the bare-root plant in room temperature water for a few minutes then place the roots and crown into the pot. Try to tease out the roots to fill the pot while adding layers of soil until the pot is full and the tip of the crown of the plant is just below the top of the soil. Never put more than a quarter inch of soil over the crown.

Next, drop the pot on a hard surface from about four or five inches to compact the soil around the roots. Don’t pack the soil down, just shake and tamp to remove air spaces and ensure good contact between the roots and the soil. Water gently and sparingly. You want to stimulate the roots back into growing, not drown them. The pot should then go to a bright but not sunny location and above the ground on a piece of fencing or on a raised plastic flat. This will aid in drainage and keep slugs and other visitors from entering the pot through the drainage holes.

As the plant emerges, or if it already has foliage, slowly move it to a location where it gets more light. You can hold plants like this until the soil is warm and ready for planting but in reality you can hold these plants for a few months as long as they get adequate light and water. Then, when the plant fills the pot or when you’ve found the perfect planting spot, simply unpot the plant. Much of the soil will stay intact and after six to eight weeks the roots may well begin to fill the pot.

For trees and shrubs that arrive bare-root it’s pretty much the same routine but with another option. These plants will still need to be rehydrated, and the instructions they come with may call for you to soak the roots in a pail of room temperature water. A few to six hours should be more than enough. These plants can then be potted or heeled in to a temporary location for a number of weeks before you set them in their final home positions. No fertilizer, but do be mindful of the watering.

Obviously a bare-root apple tree will need a larger pot than a Hosta so make sure your pot has both the needed width and depth. The only danger here is if you overpot. Too much soil mass surrounding a root mass that can’t remove the soil moisture after a heavy watering or days of rain can end with root rot.

My first mail-order plants arrived way too early. Not unexpected from Roots & Rhizomes. What was astonishing, though, was that several of the plants came enclosed in clear plastic, tiny greenhouse-type containers. This was a sad surprise as I see most other growers moving away from plastics and shipping most plants in some type of organic media where the pot can be composted or planted. But then R&R has never been a favored source for me, and I only buy from them if that item can’t be found elsewhere. It happens.

In total, of the dozen or so plants that arrived in small pots or bare-root in the first two weeks of April, none went into the garden, and all went into pots for later planting. The potted plants or roots go into pots (plastic ones that get used numerous times), set in a standard 11-by-22-inch flat with an open bottom, then the flat is set atop a pair of 4-by-4-inch by 15-inch-long pieces of pressure treated lumber. The flats need to be fenced in to keep the rabbits from snacking or pulling the young plants right out of the pot, something a rabbit or groundhog will do.

I knew long before the TV and internet pundits claimed this to be a bad allergy year. I was in serious misery from early March until around the 21st. I’ve had minor allergy issues before, but finally this year I found out why I get these raging headaches in March. Seems that’s when the two 100-year-old maples 30 feet off the back porch are in flower. The pollen from the maples was virtually invisible but within minutes of going out the back door my nose would begin to run (the dog’s as well) and my sinuses would react. Easy enough to manage the runny nose but the headache was a bit more challenging. Funny thing is that I only react to these two maples, not any of the other maples on the property. And yes, they are a different species, as all the others flower weeks later.

With all the maple flowers and pollen I know the maple seeds, those winged things that fall from the sky that as kids we’d open and then stick to our noses, those winged things will be plentiful this year. A favored food by the chipmunks.

Time to get your houseplants ready for spring cleaning. Next week I’ll get into repotting them and how to know it’s time for repotting. In the meantime make every effort you can to get your houseplants outside and give them a good washing. Don’t make the mistake of setting them out in the sun. Like you, if you’re fair skinned, your plants will burn quickly. Just wash them, stems, leaves (tops and bottoms) and give them a good inspection for scale and aphids. If you find either then it’s time for a neem oil treatment.

It’s also time to up your game on fertilizer for your houseplants. We hold back on fertilizer in the winter when their growth slows but now that there’s more natural light and warmth you should be feeding more often. Remember, feed often but feed less. This makes adding nutrients much more natural than the “whenever I remember” method. The best way? Add fertilizer in very small amounts every time you water. Never exceed the label recommendation — just spread it out.

Lawn grub season is upon us. There are two ways to know you’ve got a grub (and thus a beetle) issue. The first sign is a group of crows pecking at the lawn in the same spot. Their persistence in one spot, usually a circle, is a good clue. The second thing to watch for is a brown patch in the lawn that seems to get ever wider. The grubs will feed on the grass roots in ever widening circles until they mature to adults.

I’m often asked if I see any effects in my garden as a result of changes in the weather.

To answer I first ask in return if you know the difference between weather changes and climate changes. What most people don’t realize is that some plants do respond to weather and yes, I do see changes based on climate changes and most notably in the lengthening of the growing season. But when I look at my flowering records and first emergence records I don’t see patterns yet. Keep in mind that in many cases flowering, fruiting and leafing out can be related to light as much as temperature. So far, the sun is still putting out the same amount of relative light.

Next week, getting potted or repotted. When do you know it’s time and if it is how do you know what size pot to move up to? And when the plant simply gets too large to be repotted? Keep growing.

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