Each season Master Gardeners answer a plethora of questions for the public about gardens, turf, trees, flowers, vegetables, insects, and plant diseases. Some people have methods of gardening that have been passed down through generations that have no basis in fact and can, in fact, be downright detrimental to the landscape.
One very common practice is using salt for weed control in an asparagus patch. This old practice involves pouring salty water or granular salt in among the asparagus plants to kill the weeds. While asparagus is deep-rooted and has a higher salt tolerance than shallow rooted weeds, this is still a poor practice. The salt destroys soil structure, creates a crust on the soil surface, and results in poor water penetration. Ultimately it will kill the asparagus along with the weeds. Mechanical (shallow tilling or hoeing in the spring), cultural (applying mulch), or chemical (using preemergent herbicides) are all superior weed control methods.
Epsom salt application is another favorite of the garden misapplications. Epsom salt is high in magnesium and some gardeners use it generously when growing roses, peppers, and tomatoes. In reality, unless the soil is extremely deficient in magnesium, it will not be of any benefit. Even then, the application may result in environmental harm that negates any benefit. A soil test would be the first line of defense to determine if any deficiency exists. In that unlikely event, an addition might be necessary, but Epsom salt would be a poor choice for an amendment. Magnesium is not a macro element needed for ideal growth. Healthy soil and the three major elements, nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, will produce ideal growing conditions.
A common misconception when planting a tree or shrub is to dig the planting hole twice as wide AND twice as deep as the root ball. Only half of that statement is correct. The hole should be twice as wide, but only as deep as the root ball itself. Deep planting leads to stress, decline, and eventual death of the tree. Contrary to popular opinion, tree roots do not grow deeply like a carrot, but they spread widely. They will extend as far, or farther than the tree canopy. Ninety to ninety-five percent of the roots will be within the first three feet of soil, and fifty percent will be within the first foot. When planting a new tree, identify the first set of primary lateral roots and locate them at or near the soil level.
Another mistake is to add compost to the planting hole. Roots prefer to grow in this nice, soft soil and will curl around and try to stay in the area instead of spreading out. This will lead to girdling and eventual tree death. Instead, backfill the hole with native soil.
The last fantasy is a potentially deadly one: organic pesticides are not as harmful as synthetic ones. Keep in mind that arsenic, snake venom, and E. coli are all organic, and all can be deadly. A pesticide is defined as “any substance or combination of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, regulating, or controlling pests.” This covers both organic and synthetic pesticides and includes herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides. The perception is that organic pesticides are gentler to the environment. However, if improperly applied, organic pesticides containing pyrethrins (a compound extracted from chrysanthemums) can be toxic to both humans and pets. Rotenone, another organic compound, can be hazardous to aquatic life. All of them are harmful to beneficial insects.
To determine relative toxicity on any pesticide label, look for the signal words “Caution” (least toxic), “Warning”, or “Danger” (most toxic). However, these words do not give an indication of environmental harm, only toxicity. In any case, use according to label directions.
When trying to determine if a practice is sound or is based on questionable data, always use university based research. Find sites that end in .edu or .gov when using the internet as a resource. Consult the County Extension Office or a Master Gardener for assistance.
Certified Master Gardener
Original Post at: https://dodge.uwex.edu/2017/04/ask-a-master-gardener-garden-facts-and-fantasies/
This is a guest post from Carol Shirk, UW-Extension Master Gardener Volunteer. She is from Dodge County and has been a Master Gardener for over 20 years, grew up on a dairy farm where they grew most of what they ate. She jokingly says that she was the original Cabbage Patch Kid, because she was literally raised in a garden. She has been gardening in some form or another for more than 60 years.
Reminder: The Twilight Garden Tour is August 14 starting at 4:00 pm at the Spooner Agricultural Research Station Teaching & Display Garden.
*Planting cover crops can improve a new or overused vegetable garden by adding nitrogen and microbes to the soil.
*They can improve soil texture by breaking up compaction.
*They can suppress weeds and after cutting them down can provide natural mulch between rows of vegetables.
*They can attract pollinators if they have flowers (ie clover, vetch, buckwheat).
*Rye establishes itself quickly and is a good cover crop to plant in the fall and overwinter.
*Cut or mow the crop before it seeds.
*Buckwheat can be a good early spring cover crop to plant before vegetables and it benefits the soil.
Problems that cover crops can help with:
Some resources for cover crop seeds are: Johnny Seed Company, Seed Savers, and Mother Earth Nursery in Minneapolis. Also UW-Extension's bulletin "Cover Crops for Home Gardens".
Fun fact: According to Wikipedia ten of the most common cruciferous vegetables eaten by people are in the Brassica species. These vegetables are one of the dominant food crops worldwide. Commonly called cole crops in North America these foods are high in vitamin C and soluble fiber – in other words—very good for you.
This family includes cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, bok choy, and similar leaf vegetables. This post will focus on one that is especially suited to the north: Bok Choy. A cultivar of Brassica rapa chinensis (Pak Choi BOPAK F1) is now featured in the Teaching and Display Garden in an All-American Selection (#AASWinners) bed of Welcome to the Farmers Market Garden.
This is the first in a series of blog posts featuring the All American Selections Display Gardens.
The idea of an insectary is that certain plants contain properties that either invite beneficial insects or repel harmful insects. Beneficial insects prey on pests that cause damage in the garden. Ladybugs and praying mantis are good examples of beneficials. Using plants for pest control not only cuts down on your workload, but it also reduces the amount of insecticides that you use in your garden. And fewer insecticides means more good bugs, which in turn means help in controlling bad bugs.
We are all guilty. We buy our plants and immediately take them home and plant them. This is harsh treatment for tender seedlings who have been coddled in the greenhouse. Take an intermediate step and be rewarded with healthier plants.
Transplanting from indoors to outdoors can cause a plant to go into shock. Consider the greenhouse: steady temperatures, little to no wind, controlled watering, and filtered sunlight. Our gardens offer none of this. While the plant is dealing with the harsher outdoor conditions it can be a victim of environmental damage, diseases and pests. And while dealing with these conditions, it will not be growing much. Take the time to condition the plants for their new home by hardening them off.
The North Country Master Gardener Plant Sale will be on May 19. This is the culmination of many weeks of volunteer effort starting with seed acquisition in the middle of the winter.
Peppers are started ahead of the tomatoes because of a typically little longer germination period and a little slower rate of growth. The tomatoes were started on April 10 as part of a learning opportunity for the new class of Master Gardener Volunteers. With the seedlings up and wanting actual sunlight, they are relocated into the Spooner Ag Research Greenhouse. There were earlier starts for native plants. The greenhouse tends to overflowing so some plants were transferred to friendly volunteer homes and greenhouses. Volunteers visited the greenhouse each day to maintain a watering schedule for the six weeks between planting and the sale. As the weather warms and the plants put on growth, the daily watering expands to twice a day.
As the seedlings grow they eventually need to be transplanted into larger pots. Finally, the temperatures are warming, the sun is out, and the seedlings are on their way.
Peppers: they can be mild like a bell pepper, have a little or a lot of hotness, or be purely ornamental. There is a pepper for everyone's taste. Our plant sale on May 19 provides many choices, check out our list. How can you know if you can stand the heat? There is the Scoville Scale that tells you the hotness. Check out this UW-Extension bulletin that provides information on peppers grown in Wisconsin: Growing Tomatoes, Peppers, and Eggplants in Wisconsin - A3687.
Some people think of heirloom tomatoes as being superior in taste to hybrids. These two terms however do not refer to taste but to how the plant is propagated. Heirloom tomatoes are old-fashioned varieties that are open-pollinated. They were usually selected for their superior flavor and not other desirable traits such as disease resistance or prolonged storage. Seeds saved from these varieties should retain those desirable traits.
Hybrids are the result of cross-pollination of several types of tomatoes. They are often developed to resist specific plant diseases, for uniform size, and long shelf life. Seeds saved from these fruits usually do not result in a similar plant the next year.
Both types of tomatoes are offered at the North Country Master Gardener annual plant sale. The full list is available at: https://www.northcountrymgv.org/uploads/6/9/3/7/69377869/tomatoes_2018.pdf
Learn more about “Homegrown Tomatoes in Wisconsin” with the UW-Extension bulletin A1691
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