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Lawns, Gardens & Trees

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Gift ideas for gardeners

These gifts will bring happiness to your friends and family.

'Appleblossom' amaryllisThe holidays are here and so are the busiest shopping days of the year! Gardening is America’s #1 hobby and you can bring happiness to others by giving gardening presents. 

Amaryllis is a great holiday gift. It is showy and one of the easiest plants to grow. A quality bulb company can offer extra large bulbs that will bloom this year and in future years too. Always remember: the bigger the bulb, the better.

The following is a brief description of more gift ideas:

Lightweight gardening hoses are getting popular. Good pruning tools are always appreciated. A pocket knife is a handy gift. Solar-powered gardening pots are popular—they glow at night!

A new shovel, spading fork or hoe will be appreciated by a true gardener. A garden cart can help your friend move plants and tools around their yard.

Nitrile garden gloves are very popular. Hand scrubbing lotions will clean and moisturize our hands (the most important gardening tools). 

We all need to eat more veggies. A juicing machine can help us to get all the servings we need for a healthy diet. A dehydrator can convert our garden produce into nutritious snacks.

Thermometers, soil thermometers and rain gauges provide valuable information to a gardener.

Gnomes and other garden statuary are risky gifts, but sometimes these gifts bring the biggest smiles!

When all else fails, a gift certificate to a local garden center or a gardening catalog will put a smile on your friend’s face.

Happy holidays!

Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. This article is an excerpt of a story published in the NDSU Yard & Garden Report, November 15, 2014. The photo was made available under a Creative Commons license specified by the photographer: Liz West.

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Sparkling jewels

Crabapple fruits add sparkling color to the winter landscape.

Red crabapple fruit in winterCrabapple trees have dropped their leaves and most have dropped their fruit, too. This litter creates a mess. That’s unfortunate. These fruitless trees will look unremarkable all winter long. That’s really unfortunate.

Why not select a variety with persistent fruit? Some crabs hold onto their fruits through much of the winter, adding sparkles of red and gold in the landscape. These fruits will also attract songbirds, adding another dimension of life and color to your home surroundings.

Red Jewel™ is renowned for its display of bright red fruits during winter. ‘Donald Wyman’, Sugar Tyme®, ’Prairfire’ and Sargent are other outstanding red-fruited types.

If you are looking for something different, ‘Snowdrift’ and ‘Professor Sprenger’ have orange fruits and the yellow fruits of Harvest Gold® are absolutely fascinating.

The next time you look for a crab, don’t focus on its spring flowers—these last for a couple weeks. Instead, consider how the tree looks during winter—this lasts for five months. Consider a crabapple with persistent fruit.

Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. Published in the NDSU Yard & Garden Report, November 15, 2014. The photo was made available under a Creative Commons license specified by the photographer: Leah Grunzke.

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Why do my trees still have leaves in November?

A simple question with a not-so-simple answer. In brief, it depends ...

Why do some of my trees still have leaves, even though it’s November?  This is a question I receive every nearly every year.  Although the question is simple, the answer is a little more complicated.  Quite simply, it depends …

The simplest answer is that some tree species simply hold onto their leaves longer into the fall or winter than other species do.  Our native ironwood tree is a classic example. The leaves first change to a yellow/orange color in the fall, and then to a tan hue later on. 

ironwood leaves

Ironwood leaves, November 13, 2012.

And they stay on the tree in that color for a long time.  I often see ironwood trees in the forest understory in both North Dakota and Minnesota.  Red oak, which also grows in Minnesota but not in North Dakota, also tends to hold its leaves well into winter. The fruit of American linden (a.k.a. basswood) stays on the tree late in the fall, and it has a bract that looks like a leaf. 

basswood bract

Leaf-like bract from an American linden fruit, November 13, 2012.

European buckthorn (a.k.a. common buckthorn), an exotic invasive species, holds its leaves much longer than other species and they often remain green late into the fall.

buckthorn leaves

European buckthorn leaves remain green late into the fall, November 13, 2012.

The second possibility for trees holding onto their leaves relates to the origin of those trees.  Quite simply, is this tree from an area south of here?  To some extent, trees that originate further south tend to hold onto their leaves a little longer in the fall.  Another way to look at this is that they don’t begin the process for becoming dormant (or winter hardy) as early as the native trees do.  This is a bit dangerous as an early fall frost can kill twigs or even the whole tree if it hasn’t hardened off sufficiently.  Planting ornamentals in a hardiness zone that they’re not adapted to can result in problems like this.

Similarly, we need to review the management of the tree during the growing season.  If the tree receives excess nitrogen too late in the growing season, it tends to focus its energy on tender new growth.  In the fall, it won’t be able to harden up as quickly as it normally would, so it remains green and tender, holding onto its leaves late in the fall.  For this reason, we recommend avoiding fertilizer applications during July, August and the first half of September.  For watering, we recommend cutting back during August.  This “mini” drought stress should kick-start the dormancy processes, resulting in a tree that is fully hardy once winter arrives.  Obviously, withholding too much water can cause problems as well, so a balance is needed.

Lastly, we need to look at the health of the branch/tree that’s still holding onto its leaves.  If a branch dies suddenly during the growing season, it will retain its leaves and will not drop them in the fall.  Certain diseases can also result in trees holding onto their leaves late in the fall.  In many cases, this is an indication of a broader health problem.

In summary, there are several possible reasons that trees might hold onto their leaves.  Usually, it’s not a good sign.  It may indicate damage that has already been done, or it might be an indicator of damage yet-to-come.  But in some cases, it might be nothing at all!

Joe Zeleznik

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Know your manure

Know where your manure comes from and avoid contaminating your garden with herbicide.

Horse with manure in pastureMany gardeners add manure to their gardens in fall. Please be sure you know where your manure comes from. Some farmers spray their pastures with pyridine herbicides to control broadleaf weeds. These herbicides include Crossbow, Curtail, Forefront, Grazon, Milestone, Redeem and Surmount.

Manure from livestock feeding on pyridine-treated hay or pasture grass should not be used in gardens. The chemical passes through the animal without decomposing. When gardeners use this manure, they are literally adding a persistent herbicide to their soil. The hearts and hopes of many of the best gardeners in our state have been broken. 

Tomatoes, potatoes, peas and beans are extremely sensitive. Affected plants will stretch and curl, similar to damage caused by dandelion killers that drift onto plants. Pyridine can persist in manure for a few years—be very careful!

Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. Published in the NDSU Yard & Garden Report, October 15, 2014. The photo was made available under a Creative Commons license specified by the photographer: Malene Thyssen.

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Preparing trees for winter checklist

A great summary of the steps needed to minimize winter injury to trees and decrease disease pressure, ensuring a great start to next year's growing season.

The following article was written by Aaron Bergdahl, Forest Health Specialist with the NDSU/North Dakota Forest Service.  It first appeared in the NDSU Extension Crop and Pest Report, September 12, 2013.

White ash - NDSU 2013

With the coming of fall it is important to remember to prepare your trees for the tough North Dakota winter. The following checklist serves as a reminder of the most important considerations for fall tree care and proper tree winterization.

  • Water trees weekly in late fall until freeze-up. Two gallons per inch of stem diameter is recommended, if the soil is dry at a depth of six inches. This will help minimize winter injury.
  • Rake up and remove/destroy fallen leaves. This is the best thing you can do to reduce the amount of fungal leaf disease next year because many fungal leaf diseases overwinter on leaf litter.
  • Prune dead wood to decrease overwintering sites for tree diseases and insect pests.
  • Wait until the tree is dormant (at least November) to prune living branches, always using proper technique.
  • Wrap the lower main stem of trees that have not developed thick bark to protect them from sunscald and rodent feeding damage.
  • Wrap burlap around smaller, high-value (landscape) conifers or set up a burlap sun/wind shield to help minimize the chances of winter burn.
  • Throughout winter, use caution when applying deicing products near trees and shrubs. Salts and other chemicals contained in some products may cause harm.

By completing this checklist you will be doing your part to maximize the chances that your trees will make it through the winter in good health and will be ready for a productive growing season.

For more information, please contact: Aaron Bergdahl, Forest Health Specialist, NDSU/North Dakota Forest Service. aaron.d.bergdahl@ndsu.edu (701) 231-5138

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Frosted apples

Apples will freeze at approximately 28°F. Use frosted apples quickly.

Frosted applesVery cold temperatures will sweep across the state tonight. Most apple cultivars freeze at approximately 28°F but can tolerate temperatures down to 25°F before suffering major damage.

If apples freeze on the tree, wait until they thaw before picking. Frozen fruits will bruise easily.

Frozen apples are edible, but will not store long. Eat or process the fruit quickly.  

Harvested apples should be kept cool (32–40°F is ideal). For small amounts, keep in perforated plastic bags in the refrigerator. For large amounts, the fruits can be stored in cardboard boxes.

Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist. Photo was made available under a Creative Commons license specified by the photographer: Fredrik Alpstedt.

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Time to plant garlic

Plant garlic now and enjoy some amazing meals next summer!

Garlic clovesMost gardens in North Dakota have been struck by frost. The natural tendency for gardeners may be to slow down, but there is still some great gardening weather ahead of us!

Think about growing garlic. It can add amazing flavors to your meals next summer.

Garlic types include hardneck, softneck and elephant. Hardneck types are hardiest and most suitable for us in North Dakota.

Get your cloves from a local garden center or an online seed company. There are robust varieties from all over the world, including Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The bulbs come in an attractive array of colors from pearl white to royal purple.

Garlic scapesGarlic grows best in a rich, well-drained soil. Add an inch of compost to the site and up to 3 pounds of 10-10-10 per 100 square feet. Work this into the soil.

Separate cloves from the bulbs a day before planting. Set cloves upright in the furrow, 4–6 inches apart and 2 inches deep. Space rows 18–30 inches apart.

Water deeply to activate the bulbs. The bulbs will push out roots and underground shoots this fall. Mulch with 4 inches of straw in November. This straw will insulate the soil and protect the sprouted bulbs.

The flower buds, called scapes, can be harvested in June (see bottom photo). They are mild in flavor and great in stir fries.

Harvest the bulbs in July. Then get ready for some of the most delicious meals you have ever eaten!

Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. Photos were made available under Creative Commons licenses specified by the photographers: Felix and danbruell.

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Kill weeds now; feed lawn later

This is a great time to kill weeds but a bad time to feed the lawn.

Field bindweed in lawnNow is the best time of year to kill broadleaf weeds in lawns. This includes dandelions, thistles, clovers, black medic and field bindweed (shown). As days get shorter, these perennial weeds begin channeling their nutrients down into their roots to prepare for winter. This is great, because a herbicide sprayed on a weed at this time will be channeled down into the weed’s root system, killing the entire plant.

The most effective products include a combination of herbicides. Trimec formulations will include a combination of 2,4-D, mecoprop and dicamba. Dicamba is especially powerful, but the chemical can build up in the soil and damage trees, shrubs and perennials. Limit yourself to one application of dicamba per year; and now is the best time for it.

Now is not a good time to feed your lawn. The grass plants want to prepare themselves for winter. A fertilizer application now prevents this by promoting blade growth and delaying hardening. This makes the lawn more susceptible to winter injury.

It is better to wait until mid to late October to feed the lawn. This is after the grass blades stop growing and after you have stopped mowing. This application in October is the single most valuable time to fertilize the lawn—any lawn.

You will not see any immediate effects of this dormant application, but the fertilizer will develop a stronger root system this fall and generate new buds for blade growth next spring. Turf roots grow until the ground freezes in mid November.

Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. The photo was made available under a Creative Commons license specified by the photographer: Colin Jacobs.

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Normal fall needle drop in conifers

Conifers - pines, spruces and others - sometimes lose older needles during the fall. This is normal, and does not indicate a pest problem.

During autumn, deciduous trees like green ash and linden change color and lose their leaves. This is normal and expected. It happens every year and people are used to it. When evergreen needles turn brown and die, it’s definitely unexpected, but not necessarily abnormal. 

There are several species of evergreens or conifers that grow in North Dakota. Pines and spruces are most common. Pines have relatively long needles (two to nine inches), which are held in clusters called fascicles. These needles live for two to seven years and then die and drop during the fall. These are the older needles toward the center of the tree. Needles that are going to drop start turning yellow as early as late August. By mid-September these needles turn brown and begin falling from the tree.

Another common group of conifers are the spruces such as Colorado blue spruce and Black Hills spruce. These trees have shorter needles, about three-quarter to an inch long, and are attached to the stem individually, not in bundles. Spruce needles usually live longer than pine needles and may persist for up to 10 years. Just like pines, those spruce needles which are older and more shaded, will turn color and drop during autumn. In the photo, the ponderosa pine (background) is showing normal fall coloration, while the Colorado blue spruce (foreground) is not shedding any of its needles.

Ponderosa pine tree (background) that is showing normal fall needle drop.  Colorado blue spruce (foreground) is not shedding needles in this photo.

Some needle drop by conifers during the fall is normal. The exception occurs with larch trees (also called tamarack). Larch trees lose all of their needles every year because they are deciduous evergreens. Larch needles are one to two inches long and borne in clusters on short shoots or individually on long shoots. The needles are also very soft. Some larch trees are native to the swamps and bogs of northern Minnesota. A common larch that has been widely planted in North Dakota is the Siberian larch. Larch needles turn bright yellow and provide a golden rain during autumn.

Evergreen needles don’t last forever. Some needle loss toward the center of the tree during autumn is normal. Needle loss at other times of the year is not normal and may be due to an insect or fungal pest or the result of severe environmental stress. Larch trees, the exception to the rule, lose all of their needles every year. Enjoy the colors this fall.

-Joe Zeleznik

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Frost warning

The first frost may strike tonight. Be prepared!

Frozen tomato. Photo by Joshua Heyer.Frost may strike parts of our state on Friday morning. This is terrible news—it’s way too early!

This frost might be the end of a disappointing year for many crops. The season started poorly this year due to a cold spring. Most gardens were planted later than usual and never caught up.

As of today, crops in most of our state are a week or two behind. The last thing we need is an early frost.

We cannot stop Jack Frost from coming, but we can be ready for him.

Our first frost is usually a light one (29–32°F). In this case, we can protect our sensitive plants with a blanket or tarp. This will provide a few degrees of protection, which is all we need.

Keep in mind that cold air sinks. Gardens in low spots (frost pockets) are most vulnerable to damage from early frosts.

Cover your most sensitive plants. Tomato, pepper, cucumber, squash and melons are very sensitive to freezing temperatures.

Broccoli, cabbage, carrot and radish can tolerate light frosts and do not require protection. The cool temperatures of fall will actually improve the flavor of these vegetables.

The frost may kill potato vines, but their underground tubers will be safe.

Impatiens, zinnia, celosia, geranium and coleus are among the most sensitive of flowers.

Among the most frost-tolerant flowers are petunia, marigold, cosmos and pansy.

If tonight’s first frost is a light one, we will likely get two or more weeks of gardening season before a hard frost (28°F or colder) strikes. When that killing frost is expected, you need to harvest whatever tender vegetables you can. This includes peppers, cucumbers and squash. Blemish-free tomatoes with a pink blush can ripen off the vine.

Apples on trees tolerate temperatures down to 25°F before suffering damage.

Reprinted from the NDSU Yard & Garden Report for September 8, 2014. Blog entry written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. Photo was made available under a Creative Commons license by the photographer: Joshua Heyer.

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