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Fruit Production Guide

Are you interested in learning more about fruit production in Ohio? The Midwest Fruit Production Guide is your best resource available from Extension. You can access it by clicking here: mw_home_fruit_productn_b591-1lk2hh1.

Fall Gardening Tips

This article first appeared in The Journal on October 10, 2016.

Pruning Trees and Shrubs: The best time to prune woody ornamental plants is during the fall. During the spring and summer these plants are actively growing. Pruning at this time encourages additional growth, which over time can deplete the root system, making the plants more vulnerable to pests, disease, and environmental stresses. Pruning during the fall reduces the risk of long term damage and the plant will maintain its pruned shape for longer into the following spring and summer. Be sure to leave 2/3 of the existing plant to avoid damage from over pruning.

Planting Trees and Shrubs: Fall is a great time to transplant woody ornamentals as well. For the same reasons that pruning is best during the fall, planting in the fall has some advantages over spring planting. Transplanting young trees and shrubs before winter gives the roots a head start to establish without taking away additional resources for development of new shoots and leaves. There is also less pest and disease pressure in the fall vs. spring. Be sure to plant at the correct depth. Planting too deep can cause roots to develop high on the trunk which could potentially girdle the plant’s vascular system and cause long term damage. Planting too shallow can expose the roots to extreme temperature changes, also causing long lasting issues.

Planting/Digging Bulbs: Some bulbs are not sensitive to cold, while others are. It is important to know which bulbs to plant in the fall and which to dig up before winter. Early spring bloomers like crocuses, lily of the valley, daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths should be planted in the fall, from August through until the ground freezes. Late spring and summer bloomers that are not winter hardy include: gladioli, dahlias, canna lilies, caladiums, and tuberous begonias. These can be dug after frost, but must be dug before the soil reached freezing temperatures.  To store bulbs over the winter, place them in a cool and well ventilated area. Bulbs should be planted at a depth that is 3xs deeper than the bulb’s diameter. Water thoroughly after planting to encourage root growth and diminish air pockets around the bulbs.

Weed Control: Removing weeds from the garden in the fall may initially seem like a job done too late, but better late than never! Attempt to remove weeds from your garden before the flowers fade and seeds develop. If seeds have already developed, try to remove the seed heads from the plant by cutting them into a container (like a garbage bag), then remove the remainder of the plant. This will help prevent seed from falling into your soil while weeding. If you decide to renovate your garden in the fall, consider putting down a weed barrier now. This will help prevent weed seed already present from emerging in your beds in the spring. Mulching is also helpful, this covers the bare soil surface and can prevent the weed seed from taking hold. Composted leaves make excellent mulch. Avoid using lawn clippings as mulch in your garden beds, it often contains fully developed seed. Keep fine lawn clippings on the lawn to encourage nutrient recycling.


Oak Mites

This article first appeared in The Journal on September 5, 2016.


A couple weeks ago a story was circulating on social media about oak mites in the Cleveland area. Reports indicated that people were being bitten by the mites and that the bites could cause startling skin reactions. It sparked quite a bit of discussion and concern in social circles, giving me the inspiration to write about the tiny critters.

The oak leaf itch mite, Pyemotes herfsi, is a mite that primarily feeds on midge flies. Midge flies create galls on the margins of oak leaves, where their larvae feed and grow. The mites colonize the galls and feed on the larvae. This feeding pattern makes the oak mite preferential to oak trees, particularly pin oaks and red oaks. The mites are so tiny that they cannot be seen by the naked eye. The interaction between oak mites and humans occurs when a person comes near an infested oak tree. The mites may fall from the tree’s canopy or be blown from the tree by the wind, inadvertently landing on a passerby. Then mites may accidently bite the person. Humans are not a host for these mites. They will not colonize in homes or cars or on pets.

The oak mite’s bite can produce an itchy, swollen, and red rash that may be accompanied by small raised bumps. The bites themselves do not leave lasting damage, but itching the irritating rash could lead to a secondary bacterial infection. Tthb8oakleafcurlmidge_coloh_4june09cherefore, calamine lotions and hydrocortisone creams are often recommended to reduce inflammation and itching.

The mites are most active in late summer and into the fall. Most people encounter them while raking leaves. Controlling the mite population is difficult and rarely accomplished, because the mites find protection within the leaf galls created by the midge flies. The best way to avoid the mites is to limit time near infested trees, launder clothes, and shower promptly after working near the tree.

There have been reports of the oak leaf itch mites in the Southeastern Ohio region, but there is no need to panic. They mite populations will begin to die off with the first frost. In addition, the midge flies and the mites rarely have a detrimental impact on the overall health of oak trees in the landscape.

Photo credit to http://bygl.osu.edu/node/536. 

Welcome rain! Go away squash bugs!

August 22, 2016

The rain that fell last week was a welcomed relief for many in our region. Ohio State Extension has been monitoring drought conditions across the state for a few weeks and the reported observations showed that 75% of the state was under drought conditions. The pastures are greening up again. Beans and corn are looking lush and green. Home gardeners are happy to see their crops thriving again and thankful that they can take a break from manual watering. Lawns are growing rapidly and enthusiasts are back on their mowers. While we may be happy, we also know that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Our thoughts are with those who have been afflicted by the flooding down south and also with our neighbors in West Virginia who are still recovering.

Some changes you may be observing in your gardens include splitting or cracking of fruit and the presence of pests and pathogens. The influx of moisture can lead to rapid plant growth and fruit fill, which can result in splitting or cracking of the outer fruit flesh. Check for ripening fruit daily. Harvesting afflicted fruits and vegetables may be best to prevent pathogens and pests from entering. Increased moisture can also lead to development of mildews on plants. Many pests are now reaching the adult stages of their life cycles and can be spotted damaging crops. One of the culprits that I’ve had questions about lately is the squash bug.

Squash bugs are pests of many vegetables in the cucurbit family including squash, pumpkins, zucchini, and cucumbers. Adults feed on leaves and can also feed on ripened fruit. They rarely cause lethal damage to mature plants and their presence is most likely not serious enough to require pesticide application. They produce one generation annually and overwinter indoors or under plant debris. Cultural practices that limit damage by an active population are manually knocking the bugs off of leaves and into soapy water or putting out debris, like wooden planks or newspaper, for the bugs to hide under at night and then destroying them each morning. To prevent the development of future generations, reduce potential overwintering sites in the fall by cleaning up plant debris at the end of the growing season.


Cicadas are Coming, but Keep Calm and Garden On!

I have heard quite a bit of concerned scuttle about the anticipation of the 17-year cicadas emerging this spring. They are coming, but there is no need to panic! While these insects can cause some damage to young woody trees and shrubs, it is unlikely that the damage will be devastating. If you are worried about cicada damage on your property consider netting young trees using a mesh cover or cheese cloth with holes smaller than 1/4 inch. Old wives tales about banding or wrapping tree trunks with an assortment of materials will do little to protect your plants, because the immature cicadas that climb the trunks do not actually cause any damage. The adult females, who are fully capable of flying past those trunk wraps, are the culprits. They lay their eggs within the twigs of woody perennials. If you notice a cicada party in your yard keep a look out for damaged twigs and prune them within three weeks of the damage. Pesticide control is not recommended for cicadas because applications are more likely to harm beneficial pollinators than make a dent in the temporary cicada population. Do be prepared for these boogers while out on your motorcycle or 4-wheeler. Making skin contact at a decent speed with a 2 inch insect can be unpleasant, but they mean you no harm and there is no need to fear being bitten or stung by cicadas.

Perhaps some of the cicada’s bad reputation can be traced back to they way we talk about them with our friends and neighbors. Cicadas are often called “locusts” in conversation, but locusts and cicadas are very different critters! If you know the biblical reference to “a plague of locusts”, imagining a cloud of insects coming to munch everything in it’s path can be scary. Locusts are very similar to grasshoppers and they can cause a natural disaster. Cicada’s however are more of a singing seasonal annoyance than locusts which I think of as a flying brush hog. All in all, the 17-year cicadas will emerge, find their mates, lay their eggs, and then take another 17-year hiatus until 2033, when the cycle continues again.  

Anticipation of Asparagus

This article originally appeared in the March 28, 2016 issue of The Journal-Leader.

Asparagus is one of the first spring vegetables ready to harvest in Ohio. The enticing green stalks begin to pop out of the ground in early April and asparagus lovers start to get excited. Harvest time typically stretches through June. Did you know that a successful patch of asparagus can produce a crop for up to (and beyond) 20 years? However, getting it established can be tricky.

Asparagus is picky about the soil it grows in. It does not tolerate soils that are acidic and it prefers well-drained sites. Planting crowns (which are segments of plant roots and emerging stems) in your garden is quicker and easier than starting asparagus from seed. It is important to give the crowns or seedlings time to establish before harvesting the stalks. One-year old crowns should not be harvested until they have been in the garden bed for at least a year and seedlings need two years. The reason they need this time is that the stalks, which we eat, will grow out into a fern and make energy to send down to the roots. When you harvest the stalks, energy is lost from the roots and if this happens too early the asparagus will not produce in subsequent years.

Asparagus is diecious (which means it has separate male and female plants). After the female plants growing out into a fern they will produce flowers and eventually seeds. Removing the seed stalks from the plant before the seeds form helps save energy in the roots for the next year. Seed production can be avoided by specifically purchasing crowns of only male plants.

After the asparagus has had time to get used to its new home and harvest time comes, pick it when the stalks are about the length of your hand (7-9 in). You can snap the stalks off at the soil, or to avoid cutting the tough part of the stalk off later, leave an inch or two sticking out. Harvest every week or two until 75% of the stalks are about the circumference of a pencil. To store fresh asparagus, place the ends upright in a shallow tray of water to keep them sweet and tender (if you buy fresh asparagus at a market, look for bunches that have been stored this way to get the best taste and texture). Once the harvest period has passed, let the remaining stalks grow out into ferns again to store energy for next year.

If you’re not a fan of asparagus (like me), maybe it is time to give it another try. The spring issue of OSU Extension’s Chop Chop Magazine features a recipe for Cheesy Roasted Asparagus that I plan to make with dinner sometime this month:

Ingredients: 1 bunch of fresh asparagus, 2 tbs. olive oil, ¼ tsp. salt, ½ cup grated parmesan cheese, and ½ of a lemon

Directions: Preheat oven to 450°F. Spread asparagus on a baking sheet, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt, coating the asparagus. Roast in the oven for 5-10 minutes, until bright green. Sprinkle asparagus evenly with cheese and return to the oven until the cheese melts and turns golden (about 2 min). Remove from the oven, squeeze the lemon juice over the roasted asparagus, and serve.

Happy Tasting!



The Splendid Signs of Spring

This article originally appeared in the March, 2016 issue of Around the Square.

Crocuses popping their little buds out of the soil are an encouraging sign that winter is ending and spring is beginning. For me, it is exciting because that means my favorite flowers will shortly follow- daffodils.  Their sunny yellow trumpets surrounded by petals like a lion’s mane are just what I need to pull me out of the winter blues. A. A. Milne wrote a poem about daffodils that I have always loved. It was from his collection of children’s poems titled When We Were Very Young.

She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,

Photo by Joyce L. Ritchie

Photo by Joyce L. Ritchie

She wore her greenest gown;
She turned to the south wind
And curtsied up and down.
She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
“Winter is dead.”

 Beware though! For the garden, winter may not be dead just yet. Noble County’s frost-free date doesn’t come until the end of April, meaning that the chance of temperatures reaching freezing before April 25th is greater than 50%. So hold off on putting your fragile seedling plants out in the garden until after the frost-free date. If you are seed shopping for the upcoming season, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • The number of days you have to grow a crop (ornamental or edible) without freezing temperatures is often referred to as GGDs, which stands for growing degree days. In Noble County we get 150-180 GGDs from late-April to mid-October. Check the seed packet for information on how long it will take for your plants to produce a harvestable crop.
  • Seed packets often list the zones that the plants are adapted to grow in and a color coded map. Noble County lies in USDA Hardiness Zone 6.
  • The ideal temperature for plants to grow varies greatly. Check your seed packet for what that plant prefers. For example: Lettuces grow best in early spring or early fall, so you can start these before your summer thriving plants, replace them with another plant during mid-summer, and then start another crop to continue through the fall.
  • Variety and cultivar matters. All tomatoes are NOT the same and this concept applies to many other plants. We are blessed to have such a selection of varieties and cultivars to choose from to fit our specific wants and needs! The difference between a variety and a cultivar is that a variety is a sub-species occurring in nature, while a cultivar is a sub-species that is a product of human interaction. Take a closer look at what is available to you, before you make your choices this spring and maybe try a new variety or cultivar.

If you want to add spring blooming bulbs like crocuses, daffodils and hyacinths to your garden, planting time is late-September to early-December. In the meantime, admire your neighbors’ gardens, check out what is available, and start planning for next year. If you love daffodils like I do, visit The American Daffodil Society’s website (www.daffodilusa.org) for tips, tricks, and inspiration. Also, feel free to also contact me at the extension office with your questions, comments, and/or concerns about springing into spring. I look forward to talking with you and hearing about your interests.

Spring is truly a season in which nature provides a feast for the eyes, ears, and nose. Keep your eyes peeled on your daily journeys for baby animals in the fields (calves and lambs will be abundant through the next month), listen for the sing-song calls of our migratory birds returning to the area, and don’t forget to stop and smell the flowers.