Monday, October 28, 2019

To Do Or Not To Do?


October 2019

Pickaway to Garden


 

To Do or Not to Do?

By Paul Hang

That is the question. For the past ten years I have been writing this little gardening column followed by a list of things to do, nagging you like some know it all. Given some of the questions I receive it seems quite a lot of people think I do know it all. Far from it, the things I recommend are all research-based practices that I have read, often on internet sites ending in edu, or heard from OSU Extension Educators. As Master Gardener Volunteers we are supposed to pass on only researched based scientific gardening information.

 

Rather than tell you what to do I’d rather give you options. As Autumn descends upon us there are many things we might do or might not. You might rake leaves or not. If you leave them on the lawn, they will kill the grass, unless they blow away. You could go over them repeatedly with the lawn mower until the tiny pieces disappear into the grass. You could leave them on the flower beds or shred them with a shredder to put on your planting beds as mulch. Or you could till them into the soil or turn them into the compost bin. You could simply rake them into a pile and let them decompose. Or, you could go to the trouble of raking them up and stuffing them into bags to be hauled away, hopefully to a municipal composting facility. The choices are yours. To do or not to do?

 

You could cut the seed pods off your Rose of Sharon shrubs and dispose of them. Or leave them to scatter seeds and start seedlings all over yours and your neighbor’s flower and vegetable beds to start little seedlings that are nigh on impossible to pull up. This goes for any number of shrubs such as the non-native honeysuckles, Privet Hedge, Japanese Barberry or Burning Bush, all of which are invading our woodlands and neglected roadsides. For these you could cut off the seeds or, better yet, dispose of them. To do or not to do? That is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of your outraged neighbors or to prune your shrubs.

 

Other things you can do or not do are: plant spring flowering bulbs; plant trees and shrubs; divide perennials; plant perennials; plant garlic, shallots and onions; fertilize the lawn; apply soil amendments such as compost or other organic fertilizers; mulch flower beds. And these are just the outside gardening chores! You can do any, all, or none of these. The world will keep on spinning regardless. If you are like me, and a gardener, you will do some of them. Weather, other commitments, procrastination, etc. usually keep me from completing the list. Plus, there is always next year. What was the question?

 

Things to do in the garden:

 

Hot caps and covers should be made handy in case a frost or freeze is forecast. Remember that the coldest temperature usually comes a little after sunrise. The earth radiates heat away and the sun hasn’t climbed high enough to begin heating us. If you can protect your plants now, a couple more weeks of warmth is likely to follow. With more vegetables and flowers to harvest. Average first frost for south central Ohio is October 23.

 

Consider bringing in the houseplants. Make sure you don’t bring in any bugs with them; a good blast of water from your hose can wash most of them off. Bring the pots into a sheltered spot for a week or so to help the plants acclimate before shocking them with the warmer temperatures of your home.

 

In October, and even into early November, plant garlic and shallots. Cloves from store-bought garlic may not work as some are treated to delay sprouting. You can also order favorite varieties from seed catalogs. Separate the cloves and plant 4 inches apart.

 

Dahlias, glads, tuberous begonias and cannas should be dug and stored in a cool dry place. Most basements are too warm. Caladiums, on the other hand, should be stored at 65 - 70 degrees. Go to ohioline.osu.edu and bring up Factsheet HYG-1244-92 to get specific information on storing Summer Flowering Bulbs.

 

You can still divide day lilies and iris. Cut back the iris leaves to four-inch fans. Stop feeding your roses but don’t stop giving them water. Consider cutting back your roses halfway if they stop blooming. If you have dormant roses you can still plant them. Spring bulbs can be planted as soon as you get them. Plant them at a depth three times their length; place some bulb food in the hole with them. For a better display plant them in groups, not single file.

 

If you planted trees this year (it is still a good time) protect the trunks from gnawing rabbits and other varmints with hardware cloth or the plastic wrap made for this purpose. Even older trees can benefit from this if you’ve experienced this damage in the past.

 

It is still the best time to fertilize your lawn. Use a high nitrogen soluble product. You can still sow grass seed.

 

Leave seed heads of native coneflowers and Black-eyed Susans for the birds. Also leave stems for overwintering insects. You can put off most cleanups (but not in the vegetable garden) until next spring! Add mulch around perennials after the ground freezes, assuming it will.

All In


September 2019

Pickaway to Garden

All In

By Paul Hang

I am reading a book, “Songs of Trees” by David George Haskell. In it he makes the often- remarked point that we are increasingly removed from nature. He then goes on to say that we increasingly refer to nature as “out there.” We think we are looking at nature out there when, in reality, we are looking around in nature. We want “natural” products. We shun some “man-made” products. In reality they are all natural, in nature. We can’t escape it.

We think of wilderness as really nature. We try to conserve lands that are untouched, save them from development, as if they are the only nature.  He goes on to make a point that I have vaguely thought of myself, that we are all in nature, all the time. Humans are another, albeit remarkable, species of mammals in nature. Our buildings are just as much a part of nature as a bird nest or a beaver lodge. Our cities as much a part of nature as an ant colony or a prairie dog town. Nature is not just out there, not only the country or the wilderness. It is right here. We can’t escape it even though we may not be aware of it.

Think you are immune from nature?  Try ignoring a sore back, swelling ankles and feet. These are natural processes at work. We increasingly live in shelters where we control the environment. Don’t like the temperature? Adjust the thermostat. Round a curve too fast while texting and roll your car? Natural processes at work. We kid ourselves that we are somehow special, that the laws of nature don’t apply to us.

What does this have to do with gardening? Gardening is an attempt to control nature, to make her behave for our purposes. This is not a bad thing necessarily. We plant what we want. We pull out plants that we don’t want (weeding). We try to grow “perfect” lawns. We use man-made chemicals indiscriminately to bend nature to our will. If we can unlearn some of these assumptions and learn to cooperate with nature in our little slice of the world, we will all be better off. We are not driving the bus we are passengers.

Things to do in the garden:

As plants die consider leaving them in the garden. If they are in the vegetable garden, pull them up. If perennials, you want their winter interest or to preserve them for overwintering pollinator eggs, larvae, pupae or cocoons. Dispose of debris in a "hot" compost heap, bury them or put them in the trash. In the butterfly garden leave the host plants as they are harboring the overwintering eggs and larvae of next year’s butterflies. Those plants that you don’t want to re-seed remove the seed heads before their seeds are scattered. Or, leave them for the birds. Clean up old fruit from around fruit trees.

If you collect, dry, and store seeds for next year, use only heirloom varieties, hybrids will not grow true. Harvest and cure winter squash and gourds if they are ready. Leave a two inch stem. Gourds should be finished with growth before you cut them from the vine, store indoors at 60 degrees.

September is the best time to plant grass seed whether you are re-seeding, patching or establishing a new lawn. If you only fertilize your lawn once a year fall is also the best time to do it. Cooler, wetter fall weather promotes good root growth and your grass will start out next spring healthier. Fertilize in September and then again around Thanksgiving. Read directions for amounts.

In those areas that are not to be fall planted, plant a cover crop or “green manure” that will be turned in in the spring. Buckwheat, annual rye, sweet clover, winter barley, wheat, soybeans, alfalfa, and hairy vetch make good green manures.

Now is the time to plant spring flowering bulbs. A good rule of thumb is to plant bulbs at a depth about three times the height of the bulb. Planting irises and peonies this fall takes advantage of the warm earth. They should be planted about 2 inches deep. If your peonies haven’t bloomed well because of shade from nearby competing trees, now is a good time to move them to a sunnier place in the yard.

Watch for yellowing of gladiolus leaves. Dig the corms and hang until the tops turn brown. Then store in a cool, not freezing, well ventilated basement or garage. Do the same with caladium, cannas, and dahlias when their tops turn brown. Fall is a good time to divide Lily of the Valley, primroses, peonies, day lilies, coral-bells and bleeding heart. Adding bulb food and humus will be rewarded in the spring.

You can plant onion seed now for early green onions and bulbs. Yes, onions are bulbs. You can still plant cool season vegetables. It’s not too late to start beets, carrots, kale and lettuce, maybe even bush beans! If you have row covers, or can make them, you can have these for Thanksgiving dinner. This assumes we don’t have a hard freeze. If we do, prepare to cover the plants. Order garlic bulbs now for planting later.

Now is a good time to test your soil. The called for amendments will have time to work their way into the soil and be available to the plants for the next growing season. Information on soil testing is available at the OSU Extension Office 740- 474-7534.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Awegust


August 2018

Pickaway to Garden

Awegust

By Paul J. Hang

The name Awegust better describes the way I feel about the month of August. I am in awe. What has filled me with awe? It is the bounty of the month. Just a few short weeks ago I planted seeds which have become onions, lettuce, broccoli, beets, tomatoes, peppers, beans, cabbage and lettuce. Last fall I placed cloves of garlic in the ground that survived the winter and just a couple weeks ago I pulled and dug up heads of garlic with 8 cloves each. The return on seeds, cloves, tubers and bulbs makes the stock market returns look puny indeed.

I have studied botany on my own, and even though I have gathered some understanding of the processes at work; pollination, fertilization, photosynthesis etc., seeing the results still amazes me. I am pretty sure that the casual observer has no idea how all that bounty ends up on their grocery shelves. And this is not just true of vegetables, flowers, shrubs and trees have shown amazing growth. Daylilies have been particularly prolific and blooming for a long time. Trees have, in most instances, put on growth of 2 to 4 feet or more! Shrubs too are burgeoning like the before pictures in a Nutri-system ad.

Just because this growing cornucopia is going on doesn’t mean it must be over soon. What started in the spring will go into October. You can keep the show going on into and maybe through the winter by starting a fall garden. It’s not too late.

What’s coming in just few months can also be awesome or awful depending on your point of view.

Things to do in the garden:

August is Tree Check month. Trees are valuable assets to your property and to our community. Fall is the best time to plant trees. For advice on what trees to plant and where to plant them, go to www.arborday.org or contact our City Tree Commission.. To gain an appreciation of our oldest living things see www.treesintrouble.com.

Pull all that crabgrass before it goes to seed. Take heart though, the first good frost will kill it. Water if we don’t get at least an inch of rain each week. Water at the base of the plant and do it in the morning. Water trees and shrubs planted in the past two years or if they look distressed. Plant the seeds of green beans, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage early in the month, beets, carrots, lettuces, spinach, radishes, turnips, kale, kohlrabi and snap peas mid-month, for a fall garden. Harvest vegetables and herbs in the morning for best results.

As plants die back clean up the debris so bad insects and disease don’t have a place to over- winter. This is particularly important for the vegetable garden. Some landscape plants, such as coneflowers and those with hollow stems, also native ornamental grasses, you may want to leave alone for seeds for wintering birds and insects and for visual winter interest. Put the debris of healthy plants in the compost bin, diseased plants in the trash.

Want to have a new garden next year? Now is a good time to prepare the site. Cover the area with black plastic, thick cover of newspaper or cardboard weighted down or even old carpet. Anything that will block the sun will leave bare earth come spring.

Disbud and fertilize your dahlias for bigger blooms. Side dress (fertilize) peonies with a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 or 12-12-12. Order spring bulbs and plant biennials. Divide, transplant or give away perennials that are overgrown and plant new container grown ones. Add new mulch where needed.

By the end of the month consider disbudding your tomato plants. Remove the growing tips of each branch and pinch out all the blossoms that bloom. It takes six weeks from blossom to fruit. This practice will give bigger tomatoes and prevent all those marble size tomatoes that the frost gets and never reach the table. If you’re not sure about this, try it on some of your plants and compare to those that you leave alone. Experiment! Try this also with melons and winter squash.

Tomatoes not ripening? Be patient, the plants are still growing and putting down roots not just ripening the fruit that has already set. Consider picking tomatoes before they are completely ripe. They will ripen off the vine if they still show a blush of green on an otherwise red, purple or yellow tomato. Totally ripe tomatoes still on the vine can burst with a glut of water from rain or the hose. They can be sampled by birds and mammals. Follow this advice and you will enjoy better tomatoes.

Monitor for pests. Think before you spray. Know your enemy. Use organic methods first. Remember, 97 percent of insects are either good or neutral for our gardens and landscape.

Need gardening advice? Call the Gardening Helpline at the OSU Extension Office 474-7534. Other resources are ohioline.osu.edu and, to read a weekly discussion of plant problems check out bygl.osu.edu. Buckeye Yard and Garden Line (bygl) is a real education.

Doggone


July 2019

Pickaway to Garden

 

Doggone

 

By Paul Hang

 

Doggone the year is half over as well as the growing season. You can’t extend the year, but you can extend the growing season if you plant a fall garden. There are over 100 days until the average first frost in mid-October. If you cover your plants for those first frosty nights, you may get a couple more weeks of frost free growing. But doggone it the weather has been so different, what with climate change, who knows what to expect?

 

Speaking of dogs, the dog days of summer are upon us, growling and biting, sometimes snarling, always tagging along, dogging us. Dog days are named for the star Sirius, which is the brightest star, visible in the night sky in winter and in the constellation Canis Major, the Big Dog. Sirius is in conjunction with the Sun from July 3 through August 11. Sirius rises and sets with the sun this time of year. Ancients believed it added heat to the sun. Therefore, they believed, the dog days are the hottest muggiest most uncomfortable days of the year. To stave off these uncomfortable days they sacrificed a brown dog. I wouldn’t recommend it. However, if this heat keeps up, and you own a brown dog, you better hide Fido, or you may find the dog gone.

 

I hesitate to say, but we will lose over half an hour of daylight by the end of the month. We may also begin to experience hints of the coming fall. Some leaves changing, hopefully a cool morning reminding us that summer doesn’t last forever.

 

Have questions? Call the Gardening Helpline 740-474-7534. To read a discussion of problems facing those of us who “grow things,” check out bygl.osu.edu.

 

Things to do in the garden:

 

This is the time to dry herbs. Harvest just before they flower. Pick on a sunny dry day and in the morning. Tie them in small bundles with rubber bands. Hang them upside down in a hot, dry, dark, well ventilated spot in an attic, barn or shed. This is also the time to harvest garlic and hang them or lay them out to dry and cure. Harvest when leaves are turning yellow but there are still one or two green leaves.

 

Weeding, deadheading and watering are high on the list of routine activities. If July turns out to be bone dry as usual, water the equivalent of one inch per week. Mulch to conserve moisture and keep down weeds. If you haven’t mulched yet do so after a soaking thunderstorm or a good watering. Vegetables higher in water content need more water e.g. watermelons, onions vs. green beans.

 

Keep your mower blades sharp; cut your grass long, 3-4 inches is ideal. If you use a pesticide for grubs you are also killing the ones that produce fireflies. Consider organic methods if you have a grub problem.  Kill Japanese beetle scouts before they let their comrades know about your garden. Brush them off into a cup of soapy water or alcohol (not Jim Beam). Repeatedly letting the lawn go dormant and reviving it by watering can kill the grass. Either keep watering or wait for Mother Nature to do it for you. Don’t forget to water your compost heap. It needs to remain moist for fast decomposition.

 

Going on vacation? Water well before you leave. Place container plants in a shady area. They should do fine for a week depending on the weather. If you will be gone longer have someone reliable come over and water regularly. Container plants in the hot sun may need watering daily.

 

If your grafted trees or roses are sprouting below the graft, cut the sprouts off.

Keep picking seed pods off the annuals and clipping spent flowers (deadheading) to encourage bloom all summer. Pinch back mums July 15th for the last time.

 

Always read the labels on your plants for fertilization. Most woody plants have completed their growth and their buds for next year so fertilizing trees and shrubs after early July is a waste of money and may harm the plant. Keep watering trees and shrubs planted in the past 2-3 years.

 

Consider planting a fall garden this month. Cool weather vegetables can be planted this month to take advantage of the coming cool fall weather. Plants such as cabbage, broccoli, spinach, collards, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts (plant seeds now, seedlings by mid-month), kale, Swiss chard even beets and parsnips thrive in our fall weather. If it is hot and dry, consider starting your plants indoors (except for root crops). Acclimate them to the sun before putting them out in the garden.

 

Other vegetables that grow well in cool weather but should be planted a little later are lettuce planted through August and September, carrots and radishes in September.  Count the days before the average frost, veggies that have that many days to harvest can still be planted. Check the seed packet. There are also some other varieties of vegetables that can overwinter for harvesting in the spring.  Check varieties in seed catalogs or on-line. Order now.

Drip, Drip


June 2019

Pickaway to Garden

Drip, Drip

By Paul Hang

This seems to be the sound of this spring. After the sound of downpours, water rushing out of the downspouts or spilling over the gutters, the decibels lower and we are left with the insomnia provoking drip of a leaky faucet. Normally, I like to hear rain on the roof. It is particularly nice in the mornings when I do not have to get up. It is soothingly sleep inducing. Now, the sound of rain pounding on the shingles brings cries of “No, not more rain!” My yard has a couple of low spots that tend to flood and hold water after a heavy rain. This year those places have not dried out. Not being able to mow that area has led to knee high grass. Last week I was finally able to get them mowed down and baled for mulch. Then the last two rains of an inch each have brought back the swamp.

I hesitated to write this thinking I might bring on a drought for such ingratitude. I am however grateful for the cooler weather and the effect all this moisture has had on most of our plants. Roses have never looked better and cool weather crops like broccoli and lettuce are still doing fine. To further tempt fate, I feel it is my duty to warn against what a cool wet spring brings along with all its beauty: diseases and fungus. Plants that do not get air circulating around and through them are especially vulnerable. Also, insects are thriving and not just the 97% that are either harmless or beneficia. Aren’t I a real fun guy?

Things to do in the garden:

It is not too late to start a garden. Choose strong vigorous plants. Plants of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant are the best bet for early June transplanting. Plants that can be planted from seed in early June are: green beans (successive plantings every three weeks can extend the harvest), beets, carrots, Swiss chard, corn (depending on the variety), cucumber, lettuce, lima beans, muskmelon, winter and summer squash.

To avoid the wilting of cucumber and melon vines cover the new plants with row cover material until the plants flower. Then remove the cover so that the pollinators can do their work. Mulch vegetables in mid-month after the soil has warmed up. You can fertilize all vegetables, corn two times, this month.

Weed and thin planted crops. Crowding plants more than is recommended results in all the plants doing poorly. Water deeply (not a little each day) one inch per week all summer.  Apply the water to the base of the plants rather than on the foliage. If you use a sprinkler, water early in the day so the foliage can dry before nightfall. Wet foliage overnight encourages fungal diseases to develop.

Remove seed heads from perennials. Don’t allow fancy hybrids to ripen and self-sow as their offspring will not come true. Deadhead flowers for more blooms. Iris can be divided and replanted after blooming. Pinch back mums once they are 4 to 6 inches tall. Continue to pinch back until mid-July.

If your daffodils didn’t bloom well it could be because they are now growing in the shade of trees or shrubs. Or perhaps the daffodils are too crowded. Once the foliage turns yellow you can dig up the bulbs and divide and/or move them.

Fruit trees often shed small fruits in early summer called June Drop. Thin apples to one per cluster and one fruit every four to eight inches. This will cause bigger fruit. Pick up all fallen fruit. Only compost fallen fruit if you have a “hot” heap. Otherwise dispose of diseased fruit in the trash.

If you notice a “volunteer” tomato plant in your garden yank it out or transplant it. Good gardeners, like good farmers, rotate their crops. A volunteer growing in last year’s tomato area allows disease to accumulate in that spot. Mulch under tomatoes keeps the soil from splashing up on the fruits. Soil on the fruits promotes disease. If you don’t stake, trellis or cage your tomatoes and let them sprawl on the ground, mulch will keep the fruit off the bare ground. Mulch keeps the ground from drying out, suppresses weeds and moderates the soil temperature. Several layers of newspaper topped with organic mulch, leaves, untreated grass clippings, coarse compost, shredded bark etc. should do the trick.

The Master Gardener Volunteers Helpline is open for your gardening questions. Call 740-474-7534 with your question or go to www.Pickaway.osu.edu, click on "Ask an expert." Master Gardener Volunteers will get back to you with answers to your questions. Try to provide as much information as you can.

Water your roses well but hold off on the geraniums. They will bloom best when kept somewhat dry. Newly planted trees and bushes should be watered well each week if the weather turns dry. Give them a good soaking. Don’t give them a booster feeding of fertilizer this year. Force those young roots to search for food by stretching out into the soil.

"Much Ado..."


May 2019

Pickaway to Garden

“Much Ado….”

By Paul Hang

 

I thought quoting Shakespeare, even if it is only two words, would lend a little class to a gardening column. Besides, I have much ado. I am way behind. Lots of rain has kept me out of the garden. Gardening can be maddening. Some chores need to be done at certain times, like planting peas or putting down pre-emergent crabgrass seedicide. Some chores need to be done in a certain order, like preparing the soil before planting. Fruit trees need to be sprayed when temperatures are right or buds are at a certain stage. If you don’t do these things when you are supposed to, all hell is going to break loose.

 

Nature seldom cooperates. If it’s too wet or cold on your days off you can’t, or don’t want to, cut the grass. There are other things to do, like go to work at your job, take care of family, run errands, personal grooming, clean the kitty litter and walk the dog. Even retired folks have some of these things to do as well, and more, you know, volunteer commitments and naps.

 

Maybe I am just too lazy, but I just can’t seem to get even half the things I need to do done in time. The shallots I started from seed are still in their germinating pot. The old window that was to be my cold frame still sits in the garage. I can’t begin to count the things that need to be done.

The wonderful thing about plants is they can take care of themselves with just a little help from us. They will continue to grow and flower. So if gardening is going to be fun we need to stop worrying and don’t sweat the small stuff. Much adieu and much ado about nothing.

 

On May 18th 9am to 1pm the OSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteers (MGVs), Pickaway County, will hold our annual Plant Sale at the library parking lot on N. Court St. It’s an opportunity to buy varieties of plants not always available. Our Helpline can be reached by calling the OSU Extension Office at 740-474-7534.

 

Things to do in the garden:

 

You can direct-seed corn, beans, potatoes, melons, cucumbers and squash. Place cheesecloth or row cover cloth over vines until they bloom. With any luck you will have prevented the cucumber beetles from invading the plants.

 

You can set out tomato, pepper and eggplant plants if the soil is warm(60 degrees). There is still a chance of frost but each week the chances become less and less. Be prepared to cover those tender plants if frost threatens. Don't be tempted to over fertilize tomatoes, extra nitrogen will delay ripening and produce more vine than fruit. Remember tomatoes can be planted deep with the top few branches of leaves above ground. Roots will form along the buried stem. If you stake your tomatoes put the stakes in before you plant.

 

If you plan to put houseplants outside for the summer, a period of transitioning to the new environment will help assure their health and vigor. You can divide and move perennials. As the soil warms (50 degrees) you can plant summer-flowering bulbs such as caladiums, cannas, dahlias, and gladioluses. You can begin spraying roses for black spot following the directions on the product.

 

Cut the seed pods off your lilacs, but do not prune the stems. If your lilacs are getting overgrown and leggy, cut a third of the stems this year at the ground. Do this to a third next year and the final third the year after that. This way you will rejuvenate the bushes.

Thin apples, peaches and other tree fruit (not cherries) to a fruit every six inches. Remember "June drop." It is a time when fruit trees rid themselves of excess fruit. This is a natural process.

Mulch your beds after the soil has warmed. When you set out those tender plants protect against cutworms that can cut off new transplants. Use collars of aluminum foil, plastic, cardboard or other material to encircle the stem. The collars should extend into the soil an inch and above an inch or two. There are pesticides that can help control these pests (Google "cutworms extension”). I have also placed a toothpick in the ground next to the plant stem with success.

 

This is a busy time for pollinators. When you spot a bug identify it before reaching for the spray. Fully 97% of the bugs in our gardens are beneficial. Singular bugs are almost always beneficial predators. Crowds are often pests. Know your enemy!

 

Now is a good time to get rid of invasive and harmful plants. Poison hemlock is very poisonous and a biennial. Second year plants have hairless stems bright green to bluish green with obvious purple blotches. Mowing and tilling are partial controls. Post-emergent herbicides are effective this time of year. Don’t get the sap on your skin.

 

Finally, it’s not how fast you mow but how high. Mow at least 3 inches for a healthy lawn.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Top O' the Mourning


April 2019

PICKAWAY TO GARDEN

Top’O the Mourning

By Paul Hang

My Irish is a hangover from last month. Actually, I have altered this old greeting to introduce my pet peeve. The tree toppers are at it again. Just drive down Nicholas Drive or by the hospital to see the evidence. As with all discussions and arguments it is always good to define our terms. Socrates insisted on it. So who am I to neglect it?

What is Topping?

Topping is the excessive and arbitrary removal of all parts of the tree above and beyond a certain height with no regard for the structure or growth of the tree. The vertical stem or main leader and the upper primary limbs on trees are cut back to stubs at a uniform height or lollipop shape. As opposed to topping, pruning is the selective removal of certain limbs based on the structure, crown form and growth of the tree.

I am referring to the pruning of trees, not shrubs or bushes. I am also not referring to formal methods of pruning like topiary, espaliering, pollarding, pleaching, etc.  Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott from the University of Washington says, when reducing the height of a tree properly, “branches are cut back to a lateral branch at least one-third the diameter of the limb being removed and large enough to outgrow lateral branches directly below. The lateral branch becomes the source of new terminal growth and so the tree maintains its natural form.” This is the proper technique for rounded trees but not pyramidal trees, except to remove multiple leaders.

Tree “trimmers” often use different terms to sell you on their “services.” Regardless of what they call it, topping “removes a terminal shoot back to a point where there is no appropriate lateral branch to take over the terminal role.” The result is multiple shoots sprout and compete to see which will take the leader position. To visualize what we mean, point your pointer finger straight up. Bring your finger down (you pruned the branch back to a stub) now extend all five fingers as if you are signaling stop! Those five fingers have replaced the one original, and natural, branch.  

“After topping, many epicormic shoots arise and develop into weakly attached branches (your outstretched fingers). These branches, and multiple leaders”, are weakly attached, “continue to develop girth and weight and have an increasing potential to fall and cause damage to people and property”. Of course this takes time. Tree growth is imperceptible. “What has now been created is a high-maintenance, potentially hazardous tree that must be constantly pruned.” You are now on the list and keeping tree “trimmers” in business.

Reduction of the foliage mass means a reduction in the tree’s capacity to photosynthesize, thus reducing the energy available for all its life processes. Topping leads to tree health issues: sun damage, nutrient stress, insect attack and decay. Topping is always a serious injury to the tree and usually results in serious, long-term structural consequences and liability for the homeowner and the person who topped the tree. Tree topping is never a justifiable pruning practice. And, it also leads to trees that are ugly.

Certified arborists and other legitimate landscape professionals do not practice tree topping. As long as anyone with a pickup or bucket truck and a chainsaw represent themselves as professionals, homeowners and their trees are at risk. For more information go to www.tiptoparborists and to read an article, from which I have quoted, go to www.wp.wsu.edu and search” The Myth of Tree Topping” by Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott. More information at http://forestry.ohiodnr.gov/urban. I will continue to mourn our butchered trees. “Top’o the Morning to you” should be a greeting and a warning.

Things to do in the garden:

Time spent on your lawn now will benefit it the rest of the year. Fertilize lightly if at all. The time to re-seed is when night time temps consistently reach 50 degrees and above. This is also the time to aerate lawns. Apply a pre-emergent herbicide when the first bloom appears on Bradford Callery pear in order to prevent crabgrass, unless you plan to seed. When common lilac or Ohio buckeye begins to bloom it is too late for a pre-emergent herbicide to be effective and too early for a post-emergent. Leave clippings on the lawn. Their nitrogen content is high and will reduce the need to fertilize. Mowing height of at least three inches will retard the growth of crab grass and other weeds.

Unless you are prepared to cover plants in case of frost, don’t put out those tender plants such as tomatoes and peppers until mid-May or later when the soil warms up. The average last frost date is now April 23rd. There is a 50/50 chance of frost then and the chance decreases about 10% per week after that. Spring flowering bulbs should be fertilized after they bloom. Remember to leave the leaves of bulbs until they yellow. Brown is better. Also prune spring blooming shrubs after they bloom.

If April brings its overhyped showers don’t work the soil if it is too wet.  Wait until it dries out a bit. If it seems wet enough to make a clay pot, wait. Squeeze a ball of earth about the size of a golf ball and let it drop from waist high, if it breaks apart it’s ready to be worked. Don’t apply mulch until May. Allow the soil to warm.

Cut back your ornamental grasses to six inches. Cut back your butterfly bushes (buddleia) to a foot or two and apply a balanced fertilizer. Now is the time to prune roses. Depending on the variety, you may prune back to a foot in height. Cut off those bagworms from shrubs and trees. Do it now before the worms hatch out (shortly after the Snowmound Spirea blooms). Dispose of the bags in the trash or bury them. One bag left equals a hundred plus new bags that won’t show themselves until this fall.

Tomato and pepper seeds should be started indoors. The seedlings should be moved from the cells after 4 weeks into larger pots. Move them into the garden only after hardening them off and the danger of frost is past. As usual make sure you water in the transplants. When you water, water deeply (top six inches wet) and water the base of the plant not the foliage. Water when the plants need it, not every day. Most plants require 1 to 1 and a half inches of water per week.