Asparagus is one of those vegetables where freshness is incredibly important. If you have never eaten asparagus fresh out of the garden, try it. It may convince you to grow some of your own. For those who have an asparagus patch, the new spears should be appearing soon. The first asparagus that comes through the ground always seems to take a long time to reach harvest size. That is because asparagus growth is temperature dependent. The higher the day and nighttime temperatures, the faster it grows. Also, the longer the spear, the quicker the growth. As the season progresses and spears get longer, the growth rate increases.
Harvest asparagus by snapping or cutting. Snapping is quick and easy. Simply bend the stalk near the base until it breaks. Snapped ends dry quickly so refrigerate or use soon after harvest. If you cut asparagus, use a sharp knife to detach the spears slightly below ground level. This base is woodier than snapped asparagus, so it doesn't lose water as quickly. Cut off woody ends before cooking. (Ward Upham)
Certain vegetables can withstand cold spring temperatures as long as they have been toughened up by gradually exposing them to sunlight and outdoor temperatures. This “hardening off” process usually takes about a week.
Reducing watering and temperature is the key to toughening up transplants. If possible, move transplants outside for a portion of each day. Start by placing them in a shady, protected location and gradually move them into a more exposed, sunny location as the week progresses. Hardened off cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and onions can withstand temperatures near 20 F without being killed. Lettuce plants are not quite as tough but will be okay if exposed to temperatures in the mid 20s.
Don’t hesitate to put these plants out now if extreme cold is not forecast. (Ward Upham)
Onion types: Onions bulb in response to daylength and are classified as short-day, intermediate-day and long-day plants. Onions classified as short-day are triggered to bulb earlier than intermediate-day plants and intermediate-day plants are triggered to bloom earlier than long-day varieties. Intermediate-day onions are best adapted to Kansas conditions if you are looking for large onions. We can also grow short-day varieties but bulbs will be smaller than if they were grown further south because the plants are still small when they are triggered to bulb.
Varieties: If you wish to grow large onions, choose an intermediate type such as Candy, Red Candy Apple or Super Star.
Sets or plants: Though onions can be grown from seed if started inside, we are too late to raise seed-grown plants this year. Therefore, we must grow them from sets or plants. Sets are most often unnamed and will produce smaller onions. Therefore, don’t use sets but rather plants of one of the three varieties mentioned above or of another intermediate-day type.
Fertilizing: Onions have shallow root systems and need good, even moisture and adequate fertilizer to develop large bulbs. Fertilize according to soil test and work the fertilizer into the soil before planting. If a soil test hasn’t been done, use a complete, balanced fertilizer such as a 10-10-10 at the rate of 1 pound per 100 square feet. Actually, any fertilizer with the three numbers being similar will work; just follow the directions on the bag to determine how much to use.
Onions respond well to sidedressing (fertilizing a second time) about 3 weeks after the plants have started to grow. Use a fertilizer composed primarily of nitrogen such as nitrate of soda (16-0-0). This fertilizer may be applied at the rate of 2 pounds (about 4 cups) per 100 feet of row. High nitrogen lawn fertilizers such as a 27-3-3, 30-3-4, 29-5-4 or something similar are also good choices, but the rate should be 1 pound (2 cups) per 100 feet of row. Do not use lawn fertilizers that contain weed killers or weed preventers.
Planting: Space plants 4 inches apart to provide adequate room for bulb expansion. Set plants 1 to 1.5 inches deep. Rows can be spaced 12 to 16 inches apart or whatever is convenient.
Care: Keep the planted weeded to reduce competition. Water once per week if no rain. Onions should be ready for harvest around the first half of July. (Ward Upham)
New strawberry plantings should be set early in the growing season so that mother plants become established while the weather is still cool. The mother plants develop a strong root system during this cool period when soil temperatures are between 65 and 80 degrees F. The most appropriate planting time is mid- to late March in southern Kansas and late March to mid-April in the northern areas of the state. Space plants 18 to 24 inches apart.
Later in the season, runners and daughter plants develop. The earlier the mother plants are set, the sooner the first daughter plant will be formed and take root. These first daughter plants will be the largest plants at the end of the growing season and will bear more berries per plant the following spring. When planting is done later, the higher temperatures stress the mother plants resulting in reduced growth, weaker mother plants and delays in daughter plant formation. Fewer and smaller daughter plants produce fewer berries, resulting in a smaller crop.
Remove all flowers during the first year. New plants have limited energy reserves that need to go toward establishing the mother plants and making runners rather than making fruit. If fruit is allowed to develop the first year, the amount of fruit produced the second year is drastically reduced due to smaller, weaker daughter plants.
Keep row width at 12 to 18 inches as strawberries bear most on the edges of the row rather than the center. A rototiller or hoe can be used to keep the row at the recommended width. (Ward Upham)
Two common diseases on apple trees are cedar apple rust and apple scab. Though some apple varieties are resistant to these diseases — including Liberty, Jonafree, Redfree, Freedom, Williams Pride and Enterprise — most varieties are susceptible. For a listing of the disease resistance of various cultivars, go to: http://extension.missouri.edu/explorepdf/agguides/hort/g06022.pdf
Fungicide sprays during April and May are critical to preventing disease on susceptible varieties. With the warm spring this year, we may have to start sprays in March. The first spray should go down when leaves appear. A fungicide that is available to homeowners and very effective for control of apple scab and cedar apple rust is myclobutanil (Immunox). There are several formulations of Immunox but only one is labeled for fruit. Check the label. Sprays should be done on a 7- to 10-day schedule to keep the protective chemical cover on the rapidly developing leaves and fruit. These diseases are usually only a problem during April and May.
An insecticide will need to be added to this mixture after petal drop to prevent damage from codling moths that cause wormy apples. Methoxychlor or malathion have been used in the past but labels are changing and these products may no longer be labeled. A new homeowner product with the trade name Bonide Fruit Tree and Plant Guard is labeled and would be effective for all common insect pests on apples. It also contains two fungicides. The active ingredient for insects is lambda-cyhalothrin. The fungicides are Pyraclostrobin and Boscalid. The fungicides only suppress cedar-apple rust and so are not as effective on cedar-apple rust than Immunox. In order to protect bees, DO NOT use any insecticide during bloom.
An organic control with the trade name Cyd-X is also labeled but will control only codling moth.
Although gardeners may continue to use myclobutanil throughout the season, certain other fungicides are more effective on summer diseases such as sooty blotch and fly speck. Consider using Bonide Fruit Tree and Plant Guard after petal drop as it contains both an insecticide as well as two fungicides. However, you are limited to four applications per year.
A spreader-sticker can be added to the fungicide-insecticide chemical mixture to improve the distribution and retention of the pest control chemicals over the leaves and fruit. A hard, driving rain of about 1 inch or more will likely wash chemicals from the leaves and fruit. In such cases, another application should be made. You can find information on controlling insects and diseases on fruit trees in our publication titled "Fruit Pest Control for Home Gardens" at http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/bookstore/pubs/c592.pdf Below is the spray schedule I would recommend. Sprays are applied ever 10 days.
Leaves Appear: Immunox
Petal Drop: Add Bonide Fruit Tree and Plant Guard to the Immunox and so the mixture is Immunox + Bonide Fruit Tree and Plant Guard
June 1: Drop the Immunox so you are applying only Bonide Fruit Tree and Plant Guard
Many gardeners assume that compost is acidic but such is usually not the case. Compost is more often alkaline than acidic. The possible use of alkaline composts on highbush blueberries was enough of a problem that Oregon State University carried out a study that included determining the pH of various composts. The listing below is of some of the composts Oregon State University studied and the pH of those materials. We have not listed those composted from materials not common in Kansas such as hops and mint hay.
Mixed Manure 7.9
Horse Manure 6.4
Dairy Solids 8.0
Yard Debris 7.7
Composted Bark 5.4
It is interesting to note the tremendous variability in pH; from 8.0 for dairy solids to 5.4 for composted bark. Therefore, it is important to perform a soil test on soils that have been heavily amended with compost as the compost may have affected the pH. (Ward Upham)
Organic matter is a good way to improve garden soil as it improves a heavy soil by bettering tilth, aeration and how quickly the soil absorbs water. However, organic matter added in the spring should be well decomposed and finely shredded/ground. Manures and compost should have a good earthy smell without a hint of ammonia. Add a 2-inch layer of organic matter to the surface of the soil and work the materials into the soil thoroughly. Be sure soils are dry enough to work before tilling as wet soils will produce clods.
To determine if a soil is too wet to work, grab a handful and squeeze. If water comes out, it is much too wet. Even if no water drips out, it still may not be dry enough to work. Push a finger into the soil you squeezed. If it crumbles, it is dry enough, but if your finger just leaves an indentation, more time is needed. Be sure to take your handfuls of soil from the depth you plan to work the soil because deeper soils may contain more moisture than the surface. (Ward Upham)
Before you begin spring landscaping, here are some tips on planting trees.
1. Select the right tree for the site. To avoid serious problems, choose trees that are adapted to your location. Consider whether the tree produces nuisance fruit or if there are disease-resistant varieties available. For example, there are a number of crabapple varieties that are resistant to apple scab and rust diseases. Also consider the mature size of a tree to be sure you have enough room. See http://hnr.k-state.edu/extension/info-center/recommended-plants/index.html or ask a local nurseryman for suggestions for trees adapted to your area.
2. Keep the tree well watered and in a shady location until planting. When moving the tree, lift it by the root ball or pot and not by the trunk.
3. Before planting, remove all wires, labels, cords or anything else tied to the plant. If left on, they may eventually girdle the branch to which they are attached. The root flare (point where trunk and roots meet) should be visible. If it isn't, remove enough soil or media so that it is.
4. Dig a proper hole. Make the hole deep enough so that the tree sits slightly above nursery level. Plant the tree on solid ground, not fill dirt. In other words, don't dig the hole too deep and then add soil back to the hole before placing the tree.
The width of the planting hole is very important. It should be three times the width of the root ball. Loosening the soil outside the hole so it is five times the diameter of the root ball will allow the tree to spread its roots faster.
5. Remove all containers from the root ball. Cut away plastic and peat pots; roll burlap and wire baskets back into the hole, cutting as much of the excess away as possible. If you can remove the wire basket without disturbing the root ball, do it. If roots have been circling around in the container, cut them and spread them out so they do not continue growing so that they circle inside the hole and become girdling roots later in the life of the tree.
6. Backfill the hole with the same soil that was removed. Amendments such as peat moss likely do more harm than good. Make sure the soil that goes back is loosened - no clods or clumps. Add water as you fill to ensure good root to soil contact and prevent air pockets. There is no need to fertilize at planting. Note: Adding organic matter to larger area than just the planting hole can be beneficial, but it must be mixed in thoroughly with the existing soil. However, adding amendments to just the planting hole in heavy soil creates a “pot” effect that can fill with water and drown your new tree.
7. Don't cut back the branches of a tree after planting except those that are rubbing or damaged. The leaf buds release a hormone that encourages root growth. If the tree is cut back, the reduced number of leaf buds results in less hormone released and therefore fewer roots being formed.
8. Water the tree thoroughly and then once a week for the first season if there is insufficient rainfall.
9. Mulch around the tree. Mulch should be 2 to 4 inches deep and cover an area two the three times the diameter of the root ball. Mulching reduces competition from other plants, conserves moisture and keeps soil temperature closer to what the plants' roots prefer.
10. Stake only when necessary. Trees will establish more quickly and grow faster if they are not staked. However, larger trees or those in windy locations may need to be staked the first year. Movement is necessary for the trunk to become strong. Staking should be designed to limit movement of the root ball rather than immobilize the trunk. (Ward Upham)
Turfgrasses differ in their capacity to grow in shade. Among Kansas turfgrasses, tall fescue is the best adapted to shade though it isn’t all that good. Although the fine fescues (i.e., creeping red, chewings, hard and sheep) have better shade tolerance, they lack heat tolerance and typically decline during hot Kansas summers. The warm-season grasses have the poorest shade tolerance, although zoysia does better than Bermuda or buffalo. Where shade is too heavy for fescue, there are other courses of action. The most obvious is to either remove trees, or to prune limbs and thin the tree canopies. Grass will do better under openly spaced trees than under closely spaced trees. Pruned limbs and thinned canopies will allow more sunlight to directly reach the turfgrass. If possible, raise the mowing height in the shade to compensate for the more upright growth of the leaves, and to provide more leaf area for photosynthesis. The thin, weak turf in the shade may tempt you to fertilize more.
Remember, the problem is lack of light, not lack of fertility. Too much nitrogen in the spring causes the plant to grow faster and may result in weak plants. The nitrogen rate for shaded grass should be cut back to at least half of that for grass in full sun. Late fall fertilization after tree leaves have fallen, on the other hand, is important for shaded cool-season turfgrasses and should be applied at a full rate. Irrigate infrequently but deeply. Light, frequent irrigation may encourage tree feeder-roots to stay near the surface, which increases competition between the trees and the turf. Restrict traffic in the shade.
Many times, the best choice for shaded areas is switch from a turfgrass to a more shade-tolerant plant. For example, English ivy and periwinkle (Vinca minor) are much more shade tolerant than any turfgrass adapted to our area. Another option is simply to mulch the area where turf doesn’t grow well. The trees will love the cool, moist soil and the absence of competition. (Ward Upham)
Ward Upham is the Kansas State Master Gardener Coordinator and runs the Horticulture Response Center. Other contributors include K-State Extension Specialists.