Should you put plants like tomatoes out early if summer heat typically shuts them down? Mike McGrath discusses the perils of early planting and super-hot summers. Plus your fabulous phone calls!
Question of the Week:
“My father and I are having an argument. I have a Bachelor’s in Botany, but he has more gardening experience than I have years in my life. Oklahoma City has been having an incredibly mild winter, and our last frost dates have been coming earlier and earlier (I think the most recent was around March 30th), so I think we should put our peppers and tomatoes out now* and cover them with blankets in case of a cold snap. Dad thinks we should wait until after the last frost date. I’m concerned that if we wait that long, summer will set in early as it often does here, and we won’t be able to get any good harvests because of the heat. Is there a middle ground, or is one of us right?”
— Lisa from Oklahoma City
Photo by Flickr user Chiot’s Run
Highlights from show for March 19, 2016:
Deterring toads and frogs
Catherine, in Oklahoma, has a problem with toads and frogs that inhabit a creek near her property. Though they don’t harm her, and they do such a good job eating up mosquito larvae, Catherine suffers from a horrible fear of toads and frogs. Catherine asks Mike how to deter these slimy critters from her concrete patio without using chemicals. Mike suggests making the lighting in her backyard motion-censored lighting, because the lights attract insects, and the insects attract the frogs. Lastly, Mike advises diverging the toads to another location by setting up a small body of water under a light at the very edge of her property. It will give the frogs a better option. Furthermore, to prevent mosquito infestation in this little pond, Catherine can sprinkle BTI in the water, which won’t hurt the amphibians, but will halt mosquito hatching.
Pruning fruit trees
Jerry, in Michigan, has some concerns about his apple trees and his cherry trees. Mike tells Jerry about the “chilling requirement” that apple trees have. Apple trees need to grow in colder areas. Mike even says that the trees can be pruned in the middle of winter. Sometimes, it’s better to wait until the trees flower, so you can see which parts didn’t make it, which ones are thriving, etc. Mike says, when pruning, Jerry should remove whole branches, branches that are pointing straight up, and branches that are in crowded areas. When it comes to his cherry trees, Jerry is concerned about frost. Mike advises that he string some old strings of incandescent Christmas lights in the trees to keep them warm at night.
Photo by Flickr user PJ Chmiel
“With apple trees and peach trees especially it’s always smart to cut the tallest branch from the time that the trees are little, and that’s called creating a new central leader. That’s one way to keep the height of the tree under control.”
Growing hops at home
Paul, in Texas, wants to raise hops from rhizomes to create and brew beer. In his area, Paul reports there is either an abundance of water, or basic drought. He says the soil is like clay. Paul wants to create raised beds to grow the hops, but doesn’t know what size the beds should be. Mike says hops, like wine grapes, are best grown in areas that are dry. Hops, Mike says, are climbing plants that can grow anywhere from 10 to 20 feet high in a season! Mike advises putting the rhizomes in the ground, and then as the plats grow, he says to shovel compost around them on the surface. Mike advises choosing the specific hop plant carefully (one that is best suited for Texas humidity) and to only plant a few of them, 20 feet apart to make sure that there is good air flow between them.
Photo by Flickr user DJ Alison
Ridding rose bushes of disease
Ellis, in Oklahoma, has a couple of rose bushes that are dear to his daughter, but they seem to be diseased. One of them, a short-stemmed rose, was a gift, which ended up being planted. The other bush, a long-stem variety, is about six feet tall. Ellis reports that both plants are browning, and are dead and gray at the top, some are even dead down to the root. Immediately, Mike asks if the rose bushes are mulched with anything. Ellis had been mulching his rose bushes with wood chips. Mike says the wood chips are killing them, and just moving the mulch away can cut the likelihood of disease by more than half. After that, Mike recommends pruning the diseased portions of the branch, and treating the rose bushes with compost.
Photo by Flickr user Scott S.
Rebecca, in New Mexico, has a question about her raspberry plants. She planted them in a raised bed, filled with soil she took from a nearby corral that had cows over 30 years ago. She reports that her plants have been growing well, with thick bushy branches and green leaves, but she hasn’t seen any flowers or berries. Mike says raspberries do not want to be in a raised bed, and they do not want to be in a rich soil. They like to grow in flat ground, in your worst soil. All they need is a shovel full of compost every four or five years.
“Raspberries are, in the best sense of the word, trash plants.”
Photo by Flickr user Stefan Jansson
Anne, in Oklahoma, has a problem with fire ants. Anne read online that she should drown the fire ants with water, but Mike highly advises against that. Mike has an organic alternative that is much safer. It is comprised of two parts. The first is orange oil, a product called Orange Guard, which is an insecticide. First, you pour the Orange Guard down the holes into the colonies. Then, you put Spinosad on the ants. Spinosad is a naturally occurring soil organism, and when it gets on the ants, it creates a fungal infection and the whole colony dies. Ant Zap, a medium-sized cylinder of CO2, can be used to displace all of the oxygen in the colony, thus killing the ants. Lastly, fire ants are notoriously attracted to electricity, so a bug zapper will do just the trick!
Voles and Moles
Arlena, in Pennsylvania, wants to know if using castor pellets to deter voles and moles will affect the flavor of anything she grows in her garden. Mike says, “Absolutely not!” Moles only eat live food like worms and beetles, and voles only eat the roots of plants. So it’s not the taste of castor oil that deters them, it’s the smell! Therefore, the flavor of castor oil won’t permeate, because it has no flavor.
Photo by Flickr user Dave Smith