SPRING WAKES UP THIS MONTH
You may not feel it but by mid-February plants are beginning to feel the urge to grow. We notice it as we find that warm winter jacket is really more than we need. We also notice the bulbs begin to peek out of the ground and the winter weeds begin to grow. The bright yellow flowers of forsythia are among the first to shout about spring. Spring is my favorite season. And the nice thing about spring in the Pacific Northwest is that it lasts for a long, long time–well into June.
PRUNE FRUIT TREES
February and March is an excellent time to prune fruit trees. Yearly pruning is important in developing fruit trees which produce fruit where is easily harvested. For many fruit trees an additional light pruning in mid summer is also very helpful.
Fruit trees can be shortened in height by as much as one third. Where you make pruning cuts is very important. Sometimes it requires two or more years to reduce the height to where you want it. Find a side branch on each major trunk or branch which is growing outward. Prune just above that side branch. If there are no side branches growing at the height you want, go higher up until you find one. Making a major pruning cut will stimulate new branch growth a foot or two below the cut. Next year or the year after you can make a cut after these lower branches develop.
Next, thin out some of the smaller branches throughout the tree. Leave branches which are growing outward. Remove branches which are growing straight up or inward. When two branches rub or cross each other, one should be removed. In a normal year about one of every three or four branches are removed to their source. If trees have not been pruned for a few years, more and larger branches will need to be removed.
This allows light to reach the inner and lower parts of the tree. If the upper branches grow so thickly that they limit the light reaching the lower branches, they will produce smaller and fewer fruits where it is easily picked.
Shade tree branches are normally removed below 6 feet. Fruit tree branches are normally allowed to develop at heights as low as 3 or 4 feet. Fruit from these lower branches is much easier to harvest.
After heavy dormant season pruning, many fruit trees respond by developing many fast growing upright branches referred to as water sprouts. These branches can be removed the next dormant season. However, they are much easier to remove in May or June when they are less than a foot long. They are soft and green at that time and can be snapped off without cutting tools. Snapping is preferred because it removes some of the lower branch tissue which is left behind if pruners are used. This lower tissue contains latent buds which can produce a second sprout later in the summer.
DORMANT SPRAY TIME
An application of Dormant Oil while woody plants are still dormant can prevent or greatly reduce later pest problems. If you have had problems with mites, aphids, scale, or other insects on some of your trees and shrubs, dormant oil will smother over-wintering insects and their eggs. Most pesticides are not effective on insect eggs, but dormant oil is a safe, non-toxic way to eliminate pests before they become active.
Our heavy rainfall turns soils acidic. An application of Ground Limestone is very effective in reducing acidity on lawns and most flowers, trees, and shrubs, except rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas, blueberries, and similar acid loving plants. I apply lime every year to turf and every other year to vegetables, flowers, trees, and shrubs (except the acid lovers).
This time of year we see moss growing everywhere–on the roof, walks, patio, lawn, flower and shrub beds. With the heavy rainfall we have experienced this winter, it is especially bad. The good news is that it easy to control. Moss Out for Roofs and Structures contains a natural zinc compound which is non-staining and non-corrosive to wood, concrete, asphalt, and metal. Moss Out for Lawns and beds contains a natural iron compound which not only kills moss but turns grass blades and other leaves dark green. Worry Free Moss and Algae Control is an organic moss control product.
START YOUR OWN PLANTS WITH GROW LIGHTS
It is not hard to start your own plants inside if you have a greenhouse or have some grow lights. Although it is possible to start a few plants in a south-facing window, you really need some supplemental light to grow good quality plants. You should also have planting soil mix, a heating mat, trays and pots and a clear plastic dome.
If you want to grow 50 plants or less you can find a small grow light with stand for less than $100. A heating mat, tray, pots and plastic dome would be $50 or less.
Sometimes you can find combination kits with everything for $100 or less.
You can probably find everything you need from a local nursery or garden store. Johnnyseeds.com is a good on line source for grow lights and growing supplies as well as an excellent source for seeds.
If you want to grow more than 50 plants or produce larger plants or plants from cuttings, I would recommend a more expensive lighting system. HID and LED lights are more energy efficient and produce higher intensity light. They also offer a spectrum of light which is closer to outdoor light. These lights with a cooling fan start at under $200. A number of sources are available on line if you search “plant grow lights”.
A heating mat is necessary to keep soil temperature at 70 degrees or higher for best seed germination and rooting of cuttings. A clear dome or cover traps the moisture around the plants and is very important for starting cuttings. Peat pellets, peat pots, cell trays and soil blocks make transplanting easier without root shock.
Growing plants from cuttings is not difficult. Most annual and perennial flowers can be easily started from cuttings. In fact almost as many flower plants are started commercially by cuttings as seeds nowadays.
I often purchase one or a few plants of a favorite variety early in the season and grow a dozen or more plants from cuttings off the original plants. I have done this with geraniums, petunias, verbena, several perennials and several ground cover plants.
Simply cut off stems with 3 or more leaves, trim just below the lowest leaf, remove the bottom leaf and place cuttings in soil mix. Cover with a clear dome or clear plastic and use a heating mat for faster rooting. Transplant to individual containers as soon as a few roots form.
It is important to harden plants outside a few days before transplanting. I usually start putting plants outside in March or April. Cool daytime temperature combined with warm night temperature makes plants stockier and more compact.