Category Archives: Garden Maintenance

What Now??? Rozanne Succumbs to Mosaic Virus

Cucumber mosaic virus, like other mosaic viruses, causes yellow mottling on the leaves and can lead to leaf distortion and plant stunting.

A couple of weeks ago while mowing my lawn, I noticed yellow splotches on the leaves of one of my robust Rozanne cranesbills.  “Looks like some kind of mosaic virus,” I thought to myself.

So I hopped on my computer and started googling away on cranesbill geranium issues.  Within minutes, I discovered that cucumber mosaic virus can attack cranesbills and that it’s often vectored by aphids.  So, I figure that an aphid probably visited the plant, sucked on it, and in the process, infected Rozanne.

Weeds apparently provide a great food and disease source for aphids, and I happen to live between the two weediest yards in the neighborhood.

The virus can also be transmitted via garden tools and gardeners’ fingers, according to The Royal Horticultural Society.  That’s why it’s important to clean tools and hands with soap and water.

Besides causing yellow mottling, cucumber mosaic virus can lead to leaf distortion and plant stunting.

It’s important to dispose of diseased plants to keep them from infecting other plants in the garden.

Worst of all, there’s no chemical control for the virus.

After reading all that, I raced outside, dug up the infected cranesbill, conducted a speedy funeral, and tossed the plant into the trash.  It broke my heart to destroy a gorgeous two-year-old cranesbill.  But it was the only thing I could do.

Next, I checked the four cranesbills surrounding the infected one.  Fortunately, I didn’t see any mottling on the other plants.

Normally, I blast a plant with water to dislodge aphids.  But in this case, I wanted to take more definitive action.  So I whipped out my Ferti-lome Triple Action insecticide/fungicide/miticide and sprayed all of my geraniums, roses and Pawnee Buttes sand cherries.  When I used Triple Action on my aphid-infested sand cherries last year, the plants recovered nicely.

I’ve been growing hardy geraniums, including Rozanne and bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum), for ten years or so, and have never had any problems with them.

My online research indicates that allium can repel aphids.  Interestingly, though, I did have one allium growing near the Rozannes, and still had this mosaic problem.  Maybe I need more alliums.

Other plants that reportedly repel aphids are catnip/catmint, garlic, chives and mint.

I grow Little Trudy catmint next to my roses, and so far, haven’t spotted any aphids on the roses.  All of my roses are own-root roses.  So fortunately, I don’t need to be concerned about another virus– rose mosaic virus—on those plants because that disease attacks only grafted roses.  It’s yet one more good reason to plant own-root roses, such as those sold by High Country Roses.

 

 

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The Grass is Sometimes Greener in the Neighbor’s Lawn

My grass has looked this green for several weeks now. The color in the photo has not been enhanced. I use water sparingly. Will the grass turn more yellow this summer? Yes, because that’s what Kentucky blue grass does. It’s a cool-season grass.

We take a monkey see/monkey do approach to lawn care on my cul-de-sac.  And sometimes it works.

Recently, I was talking with my neighbor, Rock.  He’s the premier turf grower in the neighborhood, so we swap grass-maintenance tips.

I once asked him why his lawn is so lush and green.  He said a friend told him to apply laundry detergent to his lawn once or twice a year to soften the soil and make it more water-permeable.

In the interest of science, I went out last fall and bought what I thought was the safest laundry detergent I could find—Seventh Generation liquid—and applied it to my lawn with a hose-end sprayer.  It definitely made the soil softer.  I have concerns, though, that Seventh Generation and many other detergents could add harmful salts and boron to the soil, based on information in the book, Greywater, Green Landscape, by Laura Allen.  So rather than eventually killing my grass with unsafe substances, I’ve decided to stick with Revive Organic Soil Treatment, which is designed specifically for lawns.

Earlier this spring, I noticed drifts of what looked like soil thrown here and there on Rock’s front yard.

“What’s that brown stuff on your lawn?” I asked him.  “Compost,” he said.  “I saw you spreading some on your lawn last fall.”

This is the monkey see/monkey do behavior I’m talking about.

I’ve tried other approaches on my lawn, as well.  In late winter, for example, I applied Milorganite for two reasons: (1) to fertilize the grass; and (2) to repel rabbits.  A small University of Nebraska study found that Milorganite, which is reprocessed sludge, was effective in keeping rabbits away from impatiens.  It does seem to help keep bunnies at bay in my lawn.  So does my cat, Steve.

I also get my heavy clay soil aerated each fall to make it easier for water to reach grass roots.

After the aeration last fall, I had planned to overseed my yard, but life got in the way.  So I overseeded this spring.

My lawn looks rather golf-course-like  this year, and it greened up before my neighbors’ lawns did.  I watered it only after days of high winds, which dry out the soil.  Otherwise, I let Mother Nature take care of the rest.

So, here’s my lawn maintenance timeline:

  • Fall 1917: Aerated lawn.  Applied Seventh Generation detergent (but I’m switching back to Revive).  Spread compost to improve soil tilth (ability of the soil to retain water and sustain plant growth).
  • Late winter 2018: Spread Milorganite on lawn
  • Early spring 2018: Overseeded lawn and watered it twice daily for two weeks until Kentucky blue grass seed sprouted.  Then cut back on watering

The only time I water my lawn in the spring is after high winds.  In hot summer months, though, I water about once a week.  Then I back off again the fall, when the weather is cooler and moister.

Consider trying this multi-pronged approach to see if it works for you.  And while you’re at it, have a soil test done on your lawn to determine exactly which nutrients it needs.

 

 

 

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Wait! Don’t Prune those Roses Yet!

Although you may want to prune your roses in April, resist the temptation. Otherwise you’ll have to deal with dieback of tender new growth. This beauty is a low-maintenance Livin’ Easy rose.

Don’t tell me—you’ve been cutting away at your ornamental grasses, perennials and shrubs, so that new growth can emerge unimpeded.  As long as you’re on a roll, you may as well prune those roses, too.  Right?  Nope.

Don’t prune your roses until late May in Colorado.  If you prune earlier, a late freeze is likely to kill any tender new growth stimulated by pruning.

But when you do get around to pruning, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Remove the 4 Ds: Dead, dying, damaged and diseased rose canes.  Also cut out canes that rub against each other, exposing the wood to potential disease and insect damage.  Then you can focus on shaping the plant.
  • Make your cuts at a 45-degree angle so that water doesn’t pool on top of the cane and cause it to rot.
  • Cut damaged canes about one-half inch into green live wood and about one-fourth inch above a live bud.
  • Seal the cut canes with carpenter’s glue or nail polish to discourage cane borers.

For more information about pruning roses, visit the American Rose Society’s website .  For a rose-growing calendar for Denver and Colorado’s Front Range, review the Denver Rose Society’s handout.

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Nibble Away at Turf and Water Usage

Here’s what my front yard looked like last year after my second round of turf removal and installation of new plants.

Many homeowners, especially non-gardeners, take a set-it-and-forget-it approach to landscaping.  That approach is fine, as long as those homeowners realize that as plants mature over the years, some adjustments may be necessary.

Then there are some of us gardeners in semi-arid climates who dislike high water bills so much that we nibble away at our turf year after year. Kentucky bluegrass is, after all, one of the thirstiest plants you can grow. Two years ago, for example, I reduced the turf area in my front yard by about 33 percent.  Last year, I trimmed the remaining turf by about 25 percent.  And this year, I’ve decided to decease the existing turf by another 20 percent or so.

As you can see, there was turf galore in the front yard when I bought the home 2 1/2 years ago. The yard wasn’t water-wise, to put it mildly.

“Why not remove all the turf at once?” you might sensibly ask.  Well, removing turf is time-consuming and labor-intensive.  So, I like to spread out the effort.  Also, I like to propagate plants for filling in the newly expanded beds.  If I’m propagating from cuttings, it may take several months or more to grow a new plant.

I like a small expanse of green in my front yard, but ideally, I would like to eliminate grass altogether.  That’s why I plunked a small rupturewort (Herniaria glabra) plant in my perennial bed last spring.  I’m waiting to see how it performs as a potential turf replacement.  So far, I haven’t been wowed.  Perhaps rupturewort is one of those plants that sleeps in the first year, creeps in the second year and leaps in the third year.  I’m hoping to see some leaping this summer.

This year’s turf-removal effort involves increasing the beds at the front edge of the yard by another two feet. This expansion will enable me to grow my top-performing, 5-foot-wide red fire Meidiland ground cover roses in the space. The smaller purple rain roses that I planted last year were a major disappointment.

If that doesn’t work, I might consider soapwort (Saponaria ocymoides), which I’ve grown successfully for years.  It’s evergreen, and it’s a solid, drought-tolerant performer.  I need to decide, though, whether I can live with a bright pink lawn for the two to three weeks that it’s in flower.  Also, when It’s all fluffed up, it can reach six inches tall, which is high for a lawn.

Don’t talk to me about thyme.  I’m simply not a fan.  It can brown out in the center and turn leggy.

The same goes for Turkish veronica (Veronica liwanensis).  I’ve seen it brown out in my west-facing Denver yard.  Also, it doesn’t spread as quickly as I would like.

Ajuga?  I’ve never liked the looks of it.  Its growth habit reminds me of broad-leafed weeds.

Woolly speedwell (Veronica pectinata) has all the characteristics I’m looking for.  It’s attractive, low-growing, fast-spreading and evergreen.  Unfortunately, it would burn up in my south-facing Fort Collins lawn without shade.  So, I have to be content with growing it under my autumn brilliance serviceberry.

So, the search for the right ground cover continues as I nibble away at my turf.

For those of you who are customers of Fort Collins Water, please be aware that the City of Fort Collins currently is sponsoring a Xeriscape Incentive Program (XIP), which offers generous rebates to homeowners who remove turf and install water-wise plants.

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Winter Watering–Boring, but Important

Evergreen trees, such as this magnificent blue spruce, especially require water in fall and winter because they retain their foliage year-round. Evergreens lose water as moisture moves from the roots, up through the trunk, and out the leaves. Also, newly planted trees need more water in fall and winter to help them get established.

With the snow we’ve been receiving in Colorado over the winter, many gardeners think it’s unnecessary to water their plants.

Not so.  On average, 13 inches of snow equals only one inch of rain, according to the National Severe Storm Laboratory, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

So, this means you need to haul out your hose once a month when winter temperatures rise above 40 degrees, and give your yard a good soak.  Otherwise, you could lose some of your valuable trees and shrubs–especially evergreens, which require more water.

This year, winter watering is more important than ever, because Colorado’s 2017-2018 snowpack is the worst that it has been in 30 years.  So, we could be facing a drought for the upcoming growing season.  If you keep  your plants healthy now, they’ll be in better shape to withstand drier conditions.

I watered my entire yard about a week ago, even though the soil looked moist from melted snow.  I was amazed at how quickly the water from my sprinkler sank into the soil.

Yes, it’s a pain to water in cold weather, but just do it, as soon as the snow from yesterday’s snowstorm melts.  And keep doing it until rain kicks in around April.

For more information on winter watering, visit Colorado State University’s website.

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Horrors! It’s Borers!

There’s the tell-tale hole where the borer entered the pith. Very bad news.

Last week while admiring my tiger eyes sumac, I noticed a hole in the pith in one of the stems.  Pith, in case you’re not aware, is the spongy material inside each stem.

I then examined the pith in two other stems that had been pruned before I bought the plant six weeks ago.  All three stems had a hole.

Omigaw! I realized that my baby tree was under attack by borers—currant borers, most likely, which attack currants, gooseberries and black elders, as well as sumacs.

According to Colorado State University, currant borers lay their eggs on the plant’s bark in June and early July.  Then the caterpillar larvae bore into the plant, drilling down into the pith and wood.  The nearly adult pest spends the winter in the base of the canes before pupating and later emerging as a full-grown adult in late May or early June.

Before I pruned it, the tree had two nice, leafy branches. Notice the two upright bare branches? That’s where the borers attacked. They also attacked at the lowest crotch of the tree.

Make no mistake—these bugs can kill the plant, if left untreated.

So I whipped out my pruners and began amputating lengths of branches until I reached non-holey pith.  The worst damage occurred on an auxiliary branch, where the borer had drilled all the way down that branch and into one of the tree’s two main branches.  I could even see the borer in the hole.  This meant I had to make the unkindest cut of all to save the plant’s life—removing a main leafy branch, leaving just one leafy branch on this 30-inch-tall tree.

It wasn’t easy, but I did what had to be done, disfiguring the tree in the process.  Fortunately, sumacs produce new branches relatively quickly, so I expect the plant to recover in the next couple of years.

After pruning, the looks disfigured, but the tree wlll likely grow plenty of new branches in the next couple of years. Notice the healthy pith where the branches have been cut. I sealed the cuts with fingernail polish.

I then sealed the three pruned canes with colored nail polish to prevent further infestation.  Some gardeners think sealing is unnecessary.  Personally, I seal canes larger than 1/8 inch.

Borers attack a broad range of trees and shrubs.  The most infamous borer in Colorado right now is the emerald ash borer (EAB), which began attacking ash trees in Boulder in 2013, and has spread to Longmont and Lafayette.  It’s just a matter of time before the EAB will reach Denver and Fort Collins.

Treatments for borers vary, depending the variety and size of a plant.  For information on borers and their treatment, visit Insects that Feed on Colorado Plants and Shrubs.

Next time you’re strolling through your garden, check pruned branches on your shrubs for borers.  Once the autumn leaves have fallen, pruned canes will be easier to spot.

As for trees, learn to recognize borer entrance and exit holes in the bark, so you can keep an eye out for borers there.

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Tomato Cages? Give me U-Posts Any Day

U-posts topped by a bamboo stick provide a framework for the trellis netting. You can then tie tomato vines to the netting or simply wind the vines in among the netting.

I’ve never liked tomato cages.

They sit there, neatly stacked in the garden center, promising to bestow order on snaking tomato stems. Some of them even come in vibrant colors, as though that might help. But it doesn’t.

IMHO, there isn’t a tomato cage alive that can contain multiple six-to-eight-foot vines without creating a tangled mess. I’m talking about vines of indeterminate tomatoes—the ones that sprawl all over creation.

Then, of course, there’s the storage problem, if you can wrench the cage away from the tomato without destroying the structure at the end of the season. I usually manage to scratch myself with the bits of metal extending from the bottom of the cage.

Regarding storage, folding cages take less room, but usually cost a princely sum. Often, though, they’re still not tall enough to contain unruly vines.

So I’ve tried other approaches. I’ve created a trellis from electrical conduit, securing the corners with nifty 90-degree connectors, then tying trellis netting to the top and sides. This worked until the weight of the vines caused the trellis to fall against my privacy fence. If you’ve got a fence as backup, that’s fine. But don’t rely on electrical conduit for a free-standing structure.

Then there are U-posts. I’ve found that these are much sturdier than electrical conduit. You can install a couple of them in the ground, secure a crossbar up high, and tie trellis netting to the posts and crossbar. As for the crossbar, I’m currently experimenting with a bamboo stick. It’s light, but strong. I tied the stick to the tops of the U-posts, but found that the connection was tenuous. So I placed gorilla tape over the top of the bamboo stick, then wrapped gorilla tap around the tops of the U-posts, securing the top strap of gorilla tape in the process. It seems to be holding well.

If you anticipate an unusually heavy crop, you can add a third U-post in the middle to make your trellis sturdier. I like the 6 1/2-foot posts which, by the way, are easy as heck to store.

Or you can just leave the posts in the ground for next year. It’s a good idea, though, to rotate your tomato crops, so you may end up supporting a different vegetable with those stakes the following season.

Gently tie your vines to the trellis netting with a stretchy material, such as pantyhose or elastic.  That way, the ties will expand as the plant stems grow larger.

So far, my U-post/bamboo structure is working. If that changes, I’ll let you know.

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