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The Secrets to Successful Planting

Get your garden off to a great start with these tips for sowing and transplanting.

One sunny morning coming soon, you’ll feel an irresistible urge to plant your garden. Before you pick up a trowel or open a seed packet, check out these hints to help you succeed.

Transplanting Seedlings

Whether it’s a flat of bedding plants from a nursery or seedlings started indoors, you don’t want the transition from pots to garden bed to induce transplant shock.

The first rule of thumb is to watch where you put your thumb. “Never pick up a seedling by the stem—it is the plant’s lifeline,” cautions April Johnson, staff horticulturist at the Rodale Institute, near Kutztown, Pennsylvania. Always handle seedlings by their leaves. “Leaves will grow back,” Johnson says.

Hardening Off

Hardening off gradually introduces seedlings to the conditions in your garden. Bring all seedlings—store-bought and homegrown—outdoors and expose them to a steadily increasing amount of sun, wind, and temperatures lower or higher than what they were used to indoors. This will take about 2 weeks. Don’t rush it.

When to Plant

The ideal time to plant is when it’s overcast, with rain in the forecast and no frosts or heat waves expected. If conditions don’t cooperate, then try to plant in the late afternoon or early evening to minimize the time the seedlings bake in the sun. The day before planting, water the plants so that the soil in the pots is moist.

In the Ground

Keep your seedlings in the shade until you’re actually ready to plant each one. Don’t pull a plant out of its container until you’ve dug the hole for it. If you can’t easily pull it out of its container by the leaves, hold the pot in one hand, flip it upside down, and give it a sharp tap on the bottom. The rootball should slip out into your other hand. Snip away any damaged roots with scissors or pruners. If the roots are a solid mass, gently tease some away from the center, trying not to break them.

Carefully slice into peat or newspaper pots with a knife to give the roots an escape hatch in case the pot doesn’t break down quickly. Once the pot is in the ground, tear off any part of it that extends above the soil line. It will dry out and pull moisture from the soil.

Plant the seedling at about the depth it was in the container, or a bit deeper. If your soil is cold or very wet, planting too deeply could rot the stem. But plant tomatoes quite deep. Studies by the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center, in Immokalee, Florida, showed that tomatoes planted up to their first set of true leaves set fruit earlier, and yielded more and larger tomatoes, than tomatoes planted at rootball level. This held true when the studies were repeated in the colder soils of Ohio and Massachusetts.

Firm the soil around your seedlings, but don’t press so hard that you compact it. Give each seedling a thorough watering.

The First Days

Your seedlings have become established when you see healthy new growth. This can take a few days to a week, depending on the weather. Wilted leaves or drooping stems can be symptoms of transplant shock. Seedlings can go into transplant shock if they weren’t hardened off completely or if the weather is extreme. Most plants recover in a few days, but until they do:

  • Check that the soil is firmly around the plants so that no air pockets are drying out the roots.
  • Protect the transplants from sun and strong winds with row covers, sheets, or cloches.
  • Water only if the top inch of the soil is dry. Don’t water if the soil is already wet; it won’t help.

In The New Seed-Starters Handbook (Rodale, 1988), author Nancy Bubel recommends waiting a week to 10 days after transplanting before fertilizing your seedlings. They will have sent out new feeder roots by then and will be entering their most active stage of growth.

Direct-Sowing Seeds

How hard is it to put a seed in the ground, anyway? Not hard. Nature does it all the time. But of the thousands of seeds a plant may release, only one or two might germinate and grow. Hedge your bets by not planting every seed in the pack. If any seeds don’t sprout, you’ll have extra to fill in the empty spaces.

Planting Depth

Plant seeds too deeply, and they may never germinate. Plant them too shallowly, and the topsoil might dry out during germination. Generally, you can plant a large seed at a depth equal to three times its diameter (not its length). Seeds of peas, squashes, and sunflowers and those of similar size are considered large seeds. Plant smaller seeds about 1/8 inch deep. The seed packet will give the proper planting depth for that particular seed.

Some seeds need light to germinate, so you can’t bury them. Either sift fine soil over them or leave them uncovered. But make sure the seeds make firm contact by pressing them into the soil.

To Hill or to Mound

Most gardeners sow seeds in rows—seeds spaced evenly in a line. But another way to plant seeds is in hills. When a seed packet recommends planting in hills, it means planting them in a cluster—not necessarily in a mound, as you might expect. Mounding the soil is optional. Cucurbits are often planted in elevated hills, because they need warm soil and good drainage.

Squash and melon expert and author Amy Goldman, in Rhinebeck, New York, plants her cucurbits in flat hills. She’s found that raising seedlings above the surrounding soil level causes them to dry out too quickly. She suggests mounding only if your soil is compacted or waterlogged. Jeremiath Gettle, owner of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, in Mansfield, Missouri, skips hills entirely and simply plants his cucurbit seeds in rows. He advises gardeners who plant in elevated hills to check the seedlings after a heavy rain to make sure the soil hasn’t washed away from the roots.

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Advice Offered On Creating A Naturalistic Landscape Design

Gardeners interested in a more natural look for their landscapes were treated to an inspiring and insightful talk on a Sunday afternoon at Bridge Gardens in Bridgehampton by Duncan and Julia Brine.

The principal designer and his wife and partner in the Pawling, New York-based Garden Large Naturalistic Landscape Design said that they believe that a property—whatever its size—should be treated as one garden.

A naturalistic garden, which the Brines advocate, aims to replicate an environment that exists in nature. Mr. Brine said that he sees this kind of garden as a way to preserve the identity of a landscape and for the gardener to both give back to and benefit from nature. His talk focused on the process of making a naturalistic garden personal and unique to each site.

Read more from this article here http://www.27east.com/news/article.cfm/East-End/417982/Naturalistic-Landscape-Design

(by Anne Halpin – Original Publication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press)

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New Law Takes on “Trophy Lawns”

State restricts use of phosphorus in fertilizers and “weed and feed” products.

Homeowners have been told to limit fertilizer use, which has contributed to poor water quality, shellfish declines, and contamination of swimming areas.

A state law that limits the percentage of phosphorus in lawn fertilizers and restricts the time of year when and locations where fertilizers can be used went into effect on Jan. 1. The New York State Dishwasher Detergent and Nutrient Runoff Law was enacted to reduce the amount of phosphorus entering and degrading the water and to lower the cost to local governments of removing excess quantities.

The law applies to fertilizer application and would restrict the use of “weed and feed” products that contain phosphorus in amounts over 0.67 percent, unless a soil test showed that a lawn needed phosphorus or in cases where a new lawn is being established.

“I would like to see it go further,” Kevin McAllister, the Peconic Baykeeper, said.

The law, according to a release from Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., aims to improve recreational and other uses of the state’s waters.

Mr. McAllister said the county put restrictions into effect a few years ago, and while the state is now involved, “We’ve got to do better. . . . We have got to move beyond the trend of the ‘trophy lawn.’ ”

The desire for emerald green, dandelion-free lawns is leading homeowners to pay for excessive applications of fertilizer, he said. Those “hooked on turf,” the baykeeper said, need to learn that a healthy green lawn is possible using organic and sustainable practices that will not threaten water quality.

The State Department of Environmental Conservation states that most soils in New York already contain sufficient phosphorus to support turf grass growth without additional phosphorus from fertilizers, which can account for up to 50 percent of the phosphorus in stormwater runoff.

Phosphorus is expensive for municipalities to remove from wastewater at treatment plants — from $1 to $20 per pound. More than 100 sub-watersheds in the state contain water impaired by phosphorus, according to the D.E.C.’s Web site.

The state’s recent closure of Shinnecock Bay was nitrogen-related, Mr. McAllister said. “We have to curtail the loading of fertilizer,” he said, adding that the way we manage tens of thousands of lawns will make a difference.

Pollutants enter bays and harbors in a number of ways, but primarily through groundwater and stormwater runoff, according to the Nature Conservancy. Fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides that are used on lawns travel through the soil to the groundwater that flows into our bays and harbors. Phosphorus affects fresh water, and nitrogen affects marine waters.

Mr. McAllister said many of our water bodies have been on the state’s impaired-waters list, which is reassessed every two years, since 2006. In 2010, he said, the entirety of the county’s south shore, including fresh water bodies in East Hampton and Southampton Towns, were placed on the list for either recurring algae blooms or low oxygen levels.

The baykeeper explained that nitrogen from fertilizers triggers the microscopic plants to burst in growth for several weeks. They then decompose and consume dissolved oxygen from the water, resulting in fish and crab kills.

In addition to devastating shellfish populations, overgrowth of algae causes brown tides and interferes with swimming, boating, and fishing, too, the Nature Conservancy said. Even chemicals used on properties far inland can travel long distances underground, ultimately finding their way into bays and wetlands and onto beaches.

In the release, Mr. Thiele reminded East End residents to be mindful of the new state law, which prohibits the application of fertilizers that contain nitrogen, phosphorus, or potassium between Dec. 1 and April 1. If a product does not contain any of the three primary macronutrients, it could be applied during the winter months without violating the law.

“Banning fertilizer in the winter is not going to do it,” Mr. McAllister said. “To really see the reductions, we need to impose more restrictions during the entire year.” The spring and summer are when most homeowners are using lawn products, often as a result of “brilliant marketing” disguised as education by companies such as Scotts, he said.

Although the law also states that “no fertilizers may be applied within 20 feet of surface water,” an exception is made where there is a 10-foot-wide vegetative buffer of planted or naturally occurring vegetation — trees, shrubs, legumes, or grasses — or if the fertilizer is applied using a deflector shield or drop spreader, in which cases applications may be done within three feet of a body of water.

The law does not affect agricultural fertilizer, flower or vegetable gardens, pasture land, land where hay is harvested, the trees, shrubs, and turf grown on turf farms, or any form of agricultural production.

Mr. McAllister is concerned that the law does not apply to agricultural lands, which he said are a significant contributor of nitrogen flushing into groundwater. He said the county’s monitoring of nitrate levels in groundwater downstream from farms is “through the roof.”

The law requires retailers to display phosphorus fertilizer separately from phosphorus-free fertilizer and to post signs notifying customers of the terms of the law. It has no specific disposal requirements for lawn fertilizer containing phosphorus. The law affects organic phosphorus fertilizer, as well, but not compost or liquid compost as long as they do not contain chemically, mechanically, or otherwise manipulated manure or plant matter.

The state banned the sale of phosphorus-containing dishwasher detergents for household use in 2010. The new law prohibits the sale of such detergents for commercial use as of July 1, 2013.

Mr. McAllister said education of property owners about sustainable practices is a priority — the application, for example, of compost that is organic and slowly releases nutrients that are absorbed for growth instead of flushed. He said useful information such as “Four Steps to a Pesticide-Free Lawn” is available online at neighborhood-network.org. The website has suggestions such as mowing with the blade set higher, watering infrequently and deeply, seeding with a tall fescue blend, and using organic solutions on weeds and pests. There is also a list of companies that provide landscaping services using sustainable practices.

The Nature Conservancy suggests that homeowners replace high-maintenance sod lawns with native grasses and shrubs that require less fertilization and irrigation.

Mr. McAllister also pointed out that the natural resources of the water bodies on the East End drive the economy here. Regarding polluted, fishless waters that can’t be swum in, he asked, “What will this do to property values?”

“We’ve got to change our evil ways,” the baykeeper said. “This isn’t alarmist, it’s reality.”

(by Carrie Ann Salvi – original article at The East Hampton Star)