Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Zoning in on Zone 7

 A lot of times people will make a trip to their local garden center or nursery when things are in full bloom and at their prime and make all kinds of impulse purchases. That can wind up being bad news for both the customer and the garden center when it fails to live and thrive. Customer returns to said garden center absolutely livid. Garden center replies with a dumbfounded look and a shrug because they haven't been trained to know why things die. We at Mitchells try to train all employees in proper plant care. Then ensues the questions, which just fuel the fire. Did you water it? "Of course I watered it, do I look like an idiot?"  Did you fertilize it? "Yes!" Pay attention to when you watered it and how much. We recommend watering twice a week in the summer, if you don't get a good soaking rain of at least 1/2". Rain gauges are cheap, so buy one. If you go on vacation, be sure someone waters it while you are gone. Water at least 3 times, letting the water soak into the ground between waterings, soaking thoroughly. Fertilize in spring with a timed release fertilizer and again in July to get plants off to a good start.

Now keep in mind this was probably purchased in the middle of May and now it is mid-August. If all was done correctly and the poor plant still died, there is a good chance it was not intended for your zones heat or drought. That is why it is always a good idea to inform yourself about what will and what won't tolerate the temperatures and weather conditions in your area. Don't just look at the colors on a map and think you know all you need to know. That is only a broad overview. The conditions in your area of your zone can vary widely from another area in the same zone. For instance, if you live near a creek, you may see frost sooner than those who do not as the relative humidity is higher near the water. Or, if you live close to the bottom of a mountain you may be sheltered from a lot of the colder temps or winds and it may warm faster for you. Elevation, natural water sources, forest cover, and so many other things you don't think about are factors in when you should begin your garden each year.

If you are the journaling type, you may want to keep a journal from year to year. Make notations on temperatures, weather patterns, first and last frosts each year and compare them to the generalized planting guides that the USDA provides. With that information, you could then share it with your community or even start a community gardening club and exchange your yearly information. It is also a good idea to stay informed about pests or diseases in your area. You can usually check in with your local extension office to get advice on these issues. Each county has its own extension agent, so go to the website to find out who your agent is. 

Zone 7 is a temperate zone with generally mild summers and equally mild winters. That sets us up for success with a lot of plants that will survive our summers and winters. However, it also keeps us out of growing a lot of plants too. Tropicals are annuals here and on the flip side, there are a lot of trees that won't live here that thrive in the northeast.

Either way, get familiar with your zone. Learn all you can about the climate and make the most of the plants that thrive here. think native and you will never go wrong.


Sweet and Sour Sausage Balls


Sweet & Sour Sausage Balls

1 lb. Hamburger

2 lb. Sausage

1 1/2 c. ketchup

1/3 c. brown sugar, packed

1- T. soy sauce

1- T. lemon juice

1-20 oz can pineapple tidbits, drained

Combine hamburger and sausage and roll into 1” balls. Put half in skillet. Brown in skillet. Remove each and drain on paper towels as each one browns. Add more balls until all are browned. Pour off liquid and pat dry with a paper towel. Combine ketchup, sugar, soy, and lemon juice in skillet and heat. Add balls and simmer for 10 minutes. Add drained pineapple and heat. May serve over rice or serve as an appetizer.

(May simmer in the crockpot as an appetizer, for a party- when parties resume.)

Are You Guilty of Murder? Crape Murder?

 Crape Murder. What is it, why do people do it, and how can you repair the damage? The reason many people hack off the tops of crape myrtles is they think it will increase the amount of new growth and the number of blooms. Why Not Top Crape Myrtles? Reduced photosynthesis, that's why. Topping any tree results in the removal of much of the tree’s canopy making it difficult for the tree to take in enough nutrients through photosynthesis. The tree becomes weakened and starved for food. Also, the tree struggles to survive by attempting to grow new limbs and leaves as quickly as it can. Each cut place leaves an open womb for insects and disease to enter. It takes time for the limb to heal over. Some dead material will remain inside the tree forever underneath this healed area.

 This causes numerous weak limbs to sprout around the wounded areas. Not only are these limbs unsightly and poorly attached to the stubs, but they also grow very quickly as the tree attempts to replace its canopy of leaves, thereby negating the original goal of making the tree have increased blooms. In essence, the attempt backfires, with the tree regaining much of its original height, but doing so with weaker branches that pose more of a danger than the original growth. Sunburn- the tree itself and the plant material under the crape myrtles are now in full sun. While it may seem odd to think of a tree being harmed by the sun, the sudden exposure of previously shaded bark may damage underlying tissue. If the tree previously provided cover for shade-loving plants like azaleas, those plants may be damaged or destroyed by the sudden exposure to direct sunlight. If the tree or the vegetation beneath it dies, the homeowner may have to bear the costs of removal and/or replacement. Ugliness factor: While all of these are good reasons not to top trees, there is one more, which we will just call the ugliness factor. Topping destroys the natural beauty of trees. It leaves them mangled and struggling. Instead of increasing the beauty of the landscape, topped trees detract from it. For those of us who value plants and nature, watching a mutilated tree suffer is simply painful. 

  You have two options for saving a “murdered” crape myrtle. The first method is to choose the strongest two or three sprouts from each stub and remove all of the other sprouts. This will encourage the remaining sprouts to be stronger and the canopy of the tree to be airier. If you follow this procedure for a couple of seasons, the tree is sure to be much improved in health and appearance. The second–and more drastic–technique is to cut the tree back to within one to two inches of the ground while the tree is dormant. After two to three weeks of growth in late spring, select three to five of the most vigorous new shoots on each trunk and remove all others. Remove any new shoots that emerge later. Within three to five years, you will again have a natural-looking crape myrtle. Correct Pruning of Crape Myrtles: The goal of pruning should be to develop a vase-like shape, remove crossing, broken branches, extra trunks or suckers, branches growing towards the center of the tree, and dead limbs. Generally, prune crape myrtles in the winter. As the trees mature, they should require less and less pruning. Remove all side branches up to 4 feet from the ground. A general rule of thumb when removing lower branches is to remove the lower 1/3 and leave the upper 2/3 of the branches. Crape myrtles are known for sprouting many suckers. Be sure to remove them as they will rob your tree of water and nutrients and make all of your pruning pointless.

Check out the short video below for a little more guidance on this subject. You can find more information at this link


New Year- New Garden

 The holidays are over. We are not hitting the stores wide open like we were for the post-holiday sales, thanks to COVID-19. So, that leaves us with plenty of time on our hands. What should we do? Why not do the one thing we always say we will, but never have time to do? Plan our gardening season- right down to the week. Lots of planning now will reduce the chaos later, and if things get back to normal, you will be so glad you did. If you are new to gardening, there are a few things you need to know before you begin. 

*1 What agricultural zone do you live in?

This will help you decide what and when to plant certain things. You can find this information on the USDA website.

*2 Am I going to start my garden from seedling plugs that are purchased from my local garden center? Or, am I going to start the plants from seed myself?

Determining this will determine when you should start your seed indoors or plant your seedlings in the ground.

From here even seasoned gardeners will have to make some crucial decisions. First, where am I going to put my garden? A lot of people use raised beds these days and they are great. They provide you with the ability to add and delete soil so you can keep healthy compost worked in your soil seasonally. These types of gardens also make it easier to weed and tend to your garden beds. You also may want to consider your own personality. Are you a nurturer or are you surprised your kids and dog have made it this far? If you are the latter, you may want to make sure your garden beds are incorporated somewhere close to your usual path. where you have to look at it every single day. This way you can not ignore it. You're sure to notice if your plants are laying on the ground heading toward the light of plant heaven and praying they have water there. Or, if you are the type who loves to water and piddle and is content with watching your plants grow as you ponder the meaning of life, then you will probably be safe putting your garden beds just about anywhere. Last, but not least. If you live in a rented space and digging anywhere is strictly prohibited, then it will be a container garden for you! 

Now you need to think about whether or not you're digging new beds or assembling new raised beds or buying new pots. Or, maybe you are using the same from last year. Either way, you will want to use the best soil you possibly can. If it's all-new, your raised beds and pots will need to be filled with soil. This can be an expensive job. If you are trying to save money you can use some of the native soil that you have dug up yourself, minus the grass and weeds of course. However, this soil will need to be amended with some compost or soil conditioner. If you are using soil from last year, you will want to take at least half of it out and replace it with new. I would dump the old back into the compost pile. In your pots, I advise you to dump all the old and fill it with new dirt and compost. Again, dump the old back into the compost.

There are plenty of apps out there that can help you with this. I personally prefer to sit down and put pencil to paper and figure it out. I suppose it depends on your fondness for technology or your distaste for it. 

You can also find a plethora of information on what to plant when. If you are going by a printable chart be sure that it is suitable for your zone. If you prefer to make one of your own, you may want to talk to some old gardeners about the dates of the last frost and how they have been doing it for years and write the information in a gardening journal.

No matter the technique, find your own way, and MAKE A PLAN!

Click here for a free printable planning guide.