The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

April 22, 2015

Pruning apple trees: five cuts you can make even if you’ve never pruned before

Filed under: Fruit,Trees — bob @ 9:26 am

Although you can prune apple trees just about any time of the year, most apple growers agree spring is the best time to do it. You may have seen professional orchardists out pruning trees as early as February but that is only because they have so many trees that they need the extra time to get them all pruned before the growing season starts.

Pruning and shaping apples trees takes some knowledge and experience to get it right but there are a few cuts you can be sure of even if you’ve never pruned an apple tree before.

Before pruning remember to make the cuts near the junction of the twig or branch and the main branch or trunk. Don’t leave a long stub. Conversely, don’t cut into the trunk or main branch, that makes it difficult for the tree to heal. Try to leave just a small “collar” to allow for proper healing.

You’ll need two basic tools. Use a sharp pair of pruning shears for twigs and small branches. Loppers resemble over-sized pruning shears. They are much more sturdy than shears, have longer handles and are used for for cutting larger branches.

 

By-pass type pruners (left) make the cleanest cuts. Anvil type pruners are cheaper to buy but don't cut as well.

By-pass type pruners (left) make the cleanest cuts. Anvil type pruners are cheaper to buy but don’t cut as well.

Here’s five basic cuts to make when pruning apple trees:

1) Cut off all dead twigs and branches. The spot where they attach to the tree provides a entry point for disease and other pests. Once a branch dies, the tree will try to heal around the dead branch. Unless the branch is cut off or falls off naturally, healing will never be complete.

2) Prune away “suckers”. They are those thin shoots that grow up around the base of the tree. They don’t contribute anything to the tree and make their growth at the expense of the rest of the tree.

3) Help increase light penetration and improve air circulation through the tree by removing all “water-sprouts”. Those are thin shoots that grow straight up from the main branches. They don’t produce fruit and will grow larger each year eventually distorting the tree.

4) If two branches are rubbing against one another, remove the weakest one. Rubbing damages bark leaving a wound for disease organisms to enter the tree.

5) This one will take a little more thought. Prune away weak branches that are shaded by more vigorous branches. Even though they may produce fruit, it won’t be the quality and volume produced by stronger branches. If you are fortunate enough to have inherited a mature apple that has been properly pruned through the years, it’s easier to tell which are the weaker branches.

There is much more to proper apple tree pruning but these five cuts will go a long way to improving the health of your tree and building your confidence for more sophisticated pruning.

Bob

Behind the scenes at the botanical gardens — getting ready for spring plant sale

Filed under: Events — bob @ 8:47 am

May 10 is probably already marked on your calender. That’s because it’s Mother’s Day and by default, Mother’s day is always shown on all calenders.

However, there is another reason to mark that day. It is weekend of the annual Spring Plant Sale that happens at University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor.

This week I had a chance to go behind the scenes and got to see how preparations were coming along for the Spring Plant sale.

The day I was there, staff and volunteers were tending thousands of growing plants. They were also designing and planting many, many hanging baskets and containers for the fund raiser.

Adrienne O'Brien Collections and Natural Areas Specialist at Matthaei Botanical Gardens leads a team of University of Michigan student workers and adult volunteers. They plant, grow and design containers for the Plant Sale.

Adrienne O’Brien Collections and Natural Areas Specialist at Matthaei Botanical Gardens leads a team of University of Michigan student workers and adult volunteers. They plant, grow and design containers for the Plant Sale.

Make plans now to take Mom on a trip to the Gardens on Mother’s Day. See you out there.

Bob

 

 

March 29, 2015

Growing giant poinsettias for Christmas starts now

Filed under: Flowers,Indoor Gardening — bob @ 2:59 pm

Holidays for horticulturists usually have two dates.  First, there is the actual date that the holiday occurs. The second date is the time when plants associated with that holiday need to be started.

Greenhouse people are beginning to make preparations for Christmas now, in very early spring .

I’m sure you’ve seen giant-sized poinsettias in full bloom during the Christmas season. Did you ever wonder how they managed to get them so big? The secrete is to keep the same poinsettia plants growing year after year.  Each year the plants get bigger and produce more colorful bracts.

If you have a poinsettia that is still alive from Christmas, you can renew it and have a larger more colorful plant for next Christmas.

Start by pinching off all of the leaves and bracts from the plant. Many of them may have already dropped off anyway by now. Next cut the main stem or stems to about six to eight inches above the soil surface. Remove the plant from its pot.

Behind the scenes: A bench of pruned poinsettias in Greenhouse III at University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

Behind the scenes: A bench of pruned poinsettias in Greenhouse III at University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens. They are about five years old.

It’s best to carefully rinse the old soil off of the roots and re-pot the plant using new potting mix. Removing the old soil is not absolutely necessary though, I’ve had very good results by simply leaving the existing soil then re-potting into a larger pot. What is necessary however, is using a loose commercial potting mix, not soil from the garden. Poinsettias need loose soil, no ifs ands or buts.

This poinsettia is making good growth after being drastically cut back.

This poinsettia is making good growth after being drastically cut back.

Then water thoroughly — soak the pot with water and let it completely drain out. Never let poinsettias sit in the water that collects in the pot saucer, they just can’t tolerate wet feet.

Put it in the brightest area you have to encourage it to grow. Once you see shoots developing, feed it with a good house plant fertilizer about once a month.

Later, after the danger of frost has passed, place the plant outside in a bright spot that has dappled shade during the hottest part of the day.

As the plant grows through the summer, you can pinch back shoots to help keep a symmetrical shape. Pinching will also stimulate more branching giving the plant a more compact and bushy look.

With some care and luck you’ll have a stunning plant to show off next Christmas.

Bob

 

 

March 25, 2015

Building a grow light fixture for seedlings using recycled parts

Filed under: Equipment,Seed Starting — bob @ 4:16 pm

There was a small project that I had to get done this week. I needed to add another bank of lights in my seed starting area.

You would think that after so many years as a professional gardener my seed starting room would look like some kind of laboratory complete with stainless steel racks, electronic equipment and all other sorts of really cool stuff. A few years ago when I was starting many thousands of plants, that was pretty much the case. Now days, I’m gardening at a much smaller scale.

My seed starting area is probably much simpler than what the average serious garden has. My general rule for these types of things is to not buy anything fancy or brand new if I can make it myself without sacrificing functionality.

I have a a pair of three foot, single bulb fluorescent light fixtures that I bought for a couple of bucks at a garage sale last fall. My plan was to attach them together to make a single assembly that I can easily adjust up and down depending on the growth of the seedlings.

Florescent light fixtures from a garage sale.

Florescent light fixtures from a garage sale.

There were no florescent tubes when I got them. That actually was a good thing since, over time, the amount of light  florescent bulbs produce dramatically diminishes over time. I didn’t have to dispose of any used bulbs which saved me some hassle. The bad thing was that I only had the seller’s word for it that the fixtures worked.

The first thing I did was open up the case to inspect the innards to be sure there were no wires shorting that could be an electrical hazard — they both looked sound.

The cover protecting the fixture wiring just snaps off and on.

The cover protecting the fixture wiring just snaps off and on.

Next I tested them with my new bulbs and sure enough, they lit up nice and bright.

The bulbs lit fast without flickering.

The bulbs lit fast without flickering.

Fixtures like these usually have pre-drilled holes that are used for mounting onto various surfaces, these were no different. I had some metal drawer brackets in my inventory of useful stuff that I saved from an old dresser. They were the perfect size for joining the two fixtures together.

I used self-tapping sheet metal screws to attach the brackets to the light fixtures.

Self tapping screws means no drilling necessary.

Self tapping screws means no drilling necessary.

I bent pieces of heavy-duty fencing wire to make hangers for each end of the fixture assembly.

Heavy wire bent into shape makes a fine hanger.

Heavy wire bent into shape makes a fine hanger.

The assembly is hanging by leftover ceiling light chain from a section of shelving that someone gave to me.

A section of used plastic shelving hold the light fixture assembly and seedling trays.

A section of used plastic shelving hold the light fixture assembly and seedling trays.

Even if you don’t have parts like I had laying around, recycling center that sell building materials often have fixtures, shelves and other parts for sale at very reasonable prices. I noticed while visiting Recycle Ann Arbor today that they had five nearly new florescent fixtures in stock.

Florescent light fixtures still in their boxes at Recycle Ann Arbor

Florescent light fixtures still in their boxes at Recycle Ann Arbor

For a very modest investment in cash and time I ended up with an additional seedling grow light.

Bob

 

 

 

Snow cover helps perennial plants get through winter in great shape

Filed under: Weather — bob @ 4:02 pm

Our second bitterly cold winter in a row is finally over. Even though this winter was not as cold as last year’s, it still made the record books as one of the top twenty coldest. It’s kind of surprising to me how quickly it ended. Just a few days of moderate temperature erased the snow.

The plants in our area look to be in pretty good shape despite those cold temperatures. We can thank the continuous blanket of snow that was covering the ground all winter.

Snow is nature’s insulator. I’ve heard people say they were worried because snow would freeze their plants. I’ve had to point out to them that snow is a gardener’s best friend , especially if you have perennial flowers and small fruit such as strawberries.

Farmers who grow winter wheat — which is planted in the fall — pray each year for snow cover so their wheat crop is not damaged by exposure to cold temperatures and desiccating winter winds.

Despite the fact that I neglected to mulch my strawberries as I usually do, they look to be in great shape.

The garlic I planted last fall looks good too. There was no covering on those either except what nature provided in the way of snow. I got lucky this time skipping the mulch, I don’t plan on ever taking a chance like that again.

The mud season around here was pretty short too, it lasted only a few days. The mud I’m talking about is that mud that forms when the surface layer of the soil thaws but the lower layers are still frozen. That surface water has no where to go so just turns into mud especially if poultry or livestock are walking over it.

Since the soil was not frozen very deep around here — again thanks to the continuous snow cover — it was able to thaw out very quickly.

One other surprise I found was a couple of rows of spinach that were still green and beginning to make good growth. Without that snow, they would have been frozen out way back in November.

 

The snow cover provided great protection from the harsh winter. A short row of spinach came through in fine shape

The snow cover provided great protection from the harsh winter. A short row of spinach came through in fine shape

It looks like we’ll be eating an early salad from the outdoor garden this year.

 

 

 

 

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