Tuesday, January 20, 2015

"Over the Fence" E-Newsletter

Photo courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/thegardenbuzz/

Did you know?

Penn State Extension Bucks County sends out a free, quarterly e-newsletter called "Over the Fence" to Bucks County residents interested in horticulture. It's chock-full of good, timely gardening advice and tips, including local trends and horticultural events. And no advertising! 

Sign up by emailing us at BucksExt@psu.edu or call us at 215-345-3283.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Don't Guess - Soil Test!

Photo courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/adambindslev/

Don't guess - soil test!  That’s what Penn State says when it comes to garden soil fertility.  Regardless of your gardening style, the plants you grow require good soil fertility. This means moderate  amounts of the seventeen essential elements required by all plants.  Fortunately, Mother Nature takes care of most of these; they’re provided by soil, air and water.  That usually leaves just five elements… nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg) that need adjustment.  Here’s where soil testing becomes important.  Rather than guess how much of these elements are needed, let Penn State measure them and make a recommendation specifically for your garden soil.  Within two weeks of submitting the sample you’ll receive a report and recommendations to adjust soil fertility.  This often means lime (supplying Ca and Mg while decreasing soil acidity) and fertilizer (N-P-K).  Gardening organically? No problem.  Call the Extension office and we’ll help you substitute organic sources for the fertilizer.

Convinced?  OK!  Here’s how to proceed.  Purchase a soil test “kit” from the Extension office.  You’ll pre-pay nine dollars for the testing when you purchase the kit.  Follow the instructions provided.  Prepare a representative sample of your soil by collecting sub-samples from several areas in the garden.  Each garden requires a separate kit - for example your vegetable garden requires a different kit than your lawn.  Mail the pre-addressed pouch of soil to the lab and expect results in less than two weeks.  You can collect soil samples anytime the soil isn’t frozen.
Check out Penn State’s soil test lab at www.aasl.psu.edu.  You can even obtain a soil test submission form from the site and skip the trip to our office.  The site also describes additional testing services.  Worried about arsenic or your soil’s organic matter content?  They’ll do a test for an additional fee.  Note that only a limited number of additional tests are offered.  No pesticide residue testing or testing for “unknowns.”
Like the subject of garden soils? Check out “Soil Management in Home Gardens and Landscapes” a free, eight-page publication at http://pubs.cas.psu.edu/freepubs/pdfs/uj234.pdf
Don't guess - soil test!  It's an investment in your plants' health.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Timely Gardening Tips for Winter

☼ Don’t toss your wood ash - use it sparingly in your compost pile, garden or lawn. It raises soil pH and supplies potassium.
☼ Consider using sand or sawdust for traction rather than salt.  If salt is used, spread it carefully so garden beds, grass and shrubs aren’t damaged.
☼ Accumulated snow and ice can severely damage evergreens, so as soon as possible after a snowfall, brush snow from evergreen branches with a broom in an upward, sweeping fashion to avoid breakage. 
☼ Avoid heavy traffic on dormant lawns which can damage or kill grass by breaking the crown of the plant.
☼ Consider a smaller, more efficient vegetable garden this season.  With fewer weeds and insects, a smaller garden may produce more veggies.  
☼ Check out 2015 garden catalogs for new varieties, improved pest and disease resistance as well as drought-tolerance.   Don’t wait until late winter to order – many varieties sell out early.
☼ For houseplants:  1) turn and prune them for good shape,  2) pinch back new growth to promote bushiness, 3) check closely for insect infestation, e.g., spider mite, mealy bug & scale, 4) increase humidity levels by placing plants on trays lined with pebbles and filled with water, within a half inch of the base of the pot, 5) wash large-leaf plants, e.g., philodendron, dracaena, rubber plant, to remove dust and keep “pores” open,  6) wait until vigorous growth begins in spring to transplant pot-bound houseplants, 7) fertilize sparingly now, 8) water enough so it runs through the soil and out the drainage holes which helps reduce toxic salts and minerals.
☼ Maintain shovels, spades and hoes by soaking and scrubbing to remove dirt, then sharpening blades and coating with light oil to protect metal surfaces.  Sand handles and paint them red or orange to preserve the wood and make the tools easier to find among the foliage.
☼ Start shallow trays of microgreens in a sunny windowsill. Leftover seeds for lettuce, spinach and arugula can be mixed and scattered over the surface.  Or try a more exotic mix of beets, kale, radish, Chinese cabbages, mizuna, amaranth, pea, broccoli, mustard, sunflower and chard. Harvest by cutting close to the soil level when the seed leaves and the first true leaves have emerged.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

10 Ideas for Recycling Your Christmas Tree in the Garden

Photo courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/dbtelford/
Your Christmas tree is biodegradable and recyclable, so don't put it out with the trash ... reuse it in your garden!  Here are ten ideas after you've removed all the baubles, tinsel and hooks:

1) Place your Christmas tree, in its stand, near an existing bird feeder to provide protective cover for our feathered friends. Or make the tree into a naturalistic feeding station, hanging feeders, suet, fresh orange slices, peanut butter pine cones or strung popcorn from the branches. The birds will come for the food and stay for the shelter. 

2) Use evergreen boughs to insulate planting beds where perennial flowers, strawberries, parsley, carrots, pansies, etc., are trying to survive the winter.  The limbs can also act as a sunscreen and windscreen for broadleaf evergreens like boxwood, hollies, and rhododendrons. Be sure to remove limbs in the spring after the danger of severe weather has passed.

3) In spring when the Christmas tree limbs have lost their needles, use the bare stems to stake peas and vining vegetables, or perennials like delphiniums and peonies that need a little extra support.

4) Use the Christmas tree trunk (stripped of its limbs) as edging in a garden bed.

5) Use a chipper to shred the branches into mulch or a natural path material.  If you don't have a chipper, ask a local garden center or municipality to shred it for you and take the mulch home.

6) Start a new compost pile with a layer of thin Christmas tree branches. The branches allow airflow at the bottom and will break down over time as you continue adding kitchen scraps and other compostables.

7) Saw the trunk into small logs to burn in your outdoor fire pit. (Don't burn them in the fireplace because evergreens cause creosote buildup.)

8) Strip the branches of their needles and store them in a brown paper bag, which helps keep their aroma, and use the needles to make aromatic sachets or potpourri to enjoy the rest of the year.

9) Transition into spring by creating window boxes using Christmas tree branches cut to size. Add birch twigs, boxwood, preserved moss and sugar pine cones to fill in and add texture.

10) Create an eco-friendly alternative to rock salt by using Christmas tree boughs on your walkway. During a January thaw, let the boughs freeze into the ice for good traction and a pleasant scent... but leave your boots at the door so you don't bring sap into the house.

Kathleen Connally
Master Gardener Coordinator
Penn State Extension
Bucks County, PA