As we watch prices increase for many items, being able to save money is always exciting. If you’re browsing seed catalogs as you plan for next year’s garden, here are some guidelines to help you know the shelf-life of certain vegetable seeds.
The length of time a seed remains viable depends on the variety as well as storage conditions. The included chart gives average storage time for common garden vegetables if they are maintained in proper conditions.
Seeds should be stored in a cool, dry location away from direct sunlight. For short-term storage, freezing is not necessary, but a refrigerator could be used if a cool room, such as a basement, is not available. Seeds must be adequately dried prior to storing or they may sprout prematurely or rot. Storing the seeds in a spot where the temperature and humidity are consistent is preferred. If the seeds will be stored in an area that remains cool and dry, they can be saved in a paper bag or envelope. However, glass or metal containers will protect seeds from predators including rodents and insects.
To determine if seeds are still viable, place ten on a moist paper towel. Cover the seeds with a second moist paper towel. Roll the towels together and seal in a plastic bag that has several holes poked in it. Keep the bag in a warm location adding more water to the towels to maintain moisture. Check for germination after one week. Remove seeds that have sprouted and place the others back in the bag. Check again after another week. Determine the germination rate based on the percent of total seeds that sprouted. (Cynthia Domenghini)
As food for wildlife becomes scarce, mice turn to a favorite alternative, fruit tree bark. Mice can travel unnoticed, especially when snow is on the ground, and chew through the outer layer of bark at the base of the trees. Heavy feeding reduces the trees’ ability to transport food to the roots and can result in death.
Prevent damage from mice by keeping the ground clear of debris. This removes the protective layer mice are seeking to stay hidden from predators. Weeds, leaves and grass should all be maintained. Even mulch can create a hideout for small rodents.
Wrap the base of the trunks with hardware cloth at least 18-inches high. Mice will not be able to access the bark through this material. Be sure to remove the wire during the active growing season to prevent damaging the trunk as it grows.
In some situations, a baited trap may be the best route to avoid losing fruit trees. Bait stations can easily be made to ensure only the intended pests are accessing the bait. Use extreme caution when handling the bait and follow proper procedures to keep pets, children and others safe.
Monitor fruit trees regularly for signs of damage to the trunk. Damage can be more than an aesthetic problem if not remedied quickly. (Cynthia Domenghini)
With many things, free is good. When it comes to trees, free is great, unless the plants have negative qualities. “Volunteer” trees are those that establish themselves from seed. For certain trees this is a welcomed attribute as it requires little to no effort from the gardener. However, in the case of fast growing or invasive trees along with those that lack aesthetic value, volunteers are undesirable.
If the volunteer tree is one you would like to keep but perhaps in a different area, transplanting is an option if the tree is still small (less than two-inch diameter trunk). You will have the best success if you transplant during dormancy, specifically fall or early spring.
For volunteers that are not wanted, the trees will either need to be cut or dug out. Many trees will re-sprout after cutting so the stump will need to be treated with an herbicide.
Suckers differ from volunteers because they grow from the root of an existing tree. If herbicides are used on suckers it may cause damage or even death to the parent tree. Some trees that commonly produce suckers include: tree of heaven, honeylocust, black locust, hackberry, western soapberry, cottonwood, aspen, poplar, willow and boxelder.
Triclopyr and glyphosate are the herbicides most commonly available to homeowners. Triclopyr is found in many brush killers and glyphosate is found in Roundup as well as numerous other products. Read the label before purchasing to make sure that a cut stump treatment is listed. Most often the undiluted or lightly diluted product is applied to the stump immediately after cutting using a foam paint brush. Paint brushes with bristles are more likely to drip and cause herbicide damage to the surrounding plants.
Now is a good time to control volunteer trees. If using herbicides make note of the temperature requirements during application. Always follow label instructions for safe handling and application. (Cynthia Domenghini)
How are your houseplants doing? Plants that thrived through spring and summer next to the front door or a window may be showing signs of stress due to exposure to the freezing temperatures we’ve experienced lately. This is a good time to take inventory on your indoor garden.
Plants exposed to excessive chilling may begin to show leaf spots or blemishes. Most houseplants prefer temperatures between 65- and 75-degrees F due to their tropical nature. Plants brought in to overwinter from outdoors may tolerate lower temperatures in moderation.
Remember to follow recommendations when watering. Overwatering houseplants is a common cause of death. Soil should be allowed to dry slightly between watering. Soil that begins to shrink away from the container is too dry. Remove the plant from the container and soak it in water to allow it to retain moisture again.
If water drips out of the soil when you squeeze it, this is too wet. Experienced gardeners can sometimes determine when water is needed based on the weight of the plant. Familiarize yourself with these differences by lifting the container when the plant is dry and again after watering. When watering, add enough so water drains through the holes in the bottom of the container. Dump the water collected in the saucer.
Observe the plant stems and look for signs of elongation including excessively long petioles (stem attaching leaf to plant) and internodes (section of stem between leaves). Notice yellowing leaves and unexpected leaf drop. Each of these conditions are symptoms of inadequate light. If possible, move plants closer to a natural light source or use grow lights to provide supplemental lighting.
Regularly monitor houseplants for diseases and pests. Some symptoms of this include a sticky substance on the leaves; small brown/white/green spots (pests) on the leaves, yellowing leaves sometimes with tiny speckles and webbing on leaves. Also maintain healthy roots by ensuring the plants are not outgrowing their containers and the soil is draining well. (Cynthia Domenghini)
The best time to seed cool-season grasses such as tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass is September because the turf has more time to mature before spring crabgrass germination and the heat stress of summer. Dormant seeding of turfgrass is sometimes done to fill in bare spots of lawns that weren't overseeded in the fall. Dormant overseeding is done during the winter (December – February) when it is much too cold for germination.
As with any seeding program, good seed-soil contact is vital. Several methods can be used. One method is to seed when there has been a light snowfall of up to one inch. This is shallow enough that bare spots can still be seen. Spread seed by hand on areas that need thickening up. As the snow melts, it puts the seed in good contact with the soil where it will germinate in the spring.
Another method is dependent on the surface of the soil being moist followed by freezing weather. As moist soil freezes and thaws, small pockets are formed on the wet, bare soil that is perfect for catching and holding seed. As the soil dries, the pockets collapse and cover the seed.
A third method involves core aerating, verticutting or hand raking and broadcasting seed immediately after. Of course, the soil must be dry enough and unfrozen for this to be practical. With any of the above methods, seeds germinate as early as possible in the spring. There will be limitations on what herbicides can be used for weed control. Dithiopyr, found in Hi-Yield Turf and Ornamental Weed and Grass Stopper and Bonide Crabgrass & Weed Preventer, can be used on tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, and perennial ryegrass two weeks after germination. Other preemergence herbicides available to homeowners require that the turf be well established before application. (Ward Upham)
Red berries can seem festive at this time of year, and you may notice some adorning our shrubs in the eastern third of Kansas. They are likely one of two species of bush honeysuckle, Amur and Tartarian. Although they can provide a quick-growing screen or backdrop to the landscape reaching six to twenty feet tall, they can easily become invasive and are included on the noxious weeds list for many states.
The bush varieties of honeysuckle leaf out earlier than many other plants in the spring and remain into late fall. The long growing season supports vigorous growth each year enabling it to fill the woodland understory. Left ignored bush honeysuckle will spread quickly and creates competition for native woodland wildflowers and shrubs.
Hand pulling bush honeysuckle can be effective when the plants are small if the ground is wet. For larger plant chemical control is likely necessary. Cutting the stems to the ground without chemical application will result in vigorous resprouting. Research has shown one of the most effective methods for controlling bush honeysuckle is cutting the branches to the ground and spraying the cut stems immediately with concentrated (20%-50%) glyphosate (i.e., Roundup). Foliar applications of glyphosate or Crossbow (2, 4-D + triclopyr) in late summer and fall can also be effective especially if applied on young plants though damage can be caused by overspray onto nearby plants. Follow all label instructions when using pesticides. (Cynthia Domenghini)
With colder weather, decomposition is still taking place, it just slows down. The interior of the pile is warmer than the edges so aerating the compost heap by turning it is not recommended as this will cool down the whole pile. If desired, you can put a layer of straw or even a tarp over the pile to capture the heat from the pile. You may notice the compost pile freezing and thawing during the cold season. Though decomposition may not be efficient during that time, this process actually does help to break down the materials and provide more surface area for bacteria to do their job when the weather warms up again.
Adding food scraps to the compost pile can cause issues since it will not decompose very quickly. This can cause odors and attract pests to the heap. To avoid this, as you add food waste add a layer of dried leaves as well to maintain the carbon to nitrogen (green to brown) ratio. Also, be sure to bury the food scraps several inches into the compost heap. When the weather warms up, thoroughly turn the pile to incorporate the food scraps.
Smaller compost heaps do not generate as much heat as larger piles, so if you are heading into winter with a pile smaller than one cubic yard you may consider limiting the amount of food scraps you add during the winter months. (Cynthia Domenghini)
Poor drainage in the garden can result in waterlogged soil and consequently not enough oxygen for the plant roots. Interestingly, plants will be limited in how much water they can take up and will suffer as they become stressed.
Soil compaction, grading and erosion are some of the conditions that can lead to drainage problems in the garden. While some of these problems may require digging a drain or culvert to re-route water, soil drainage can be improved by incorporating organic matter.
Organic matter can help improve water retention, aeration and nutrition in the soil. Peat moss, rotted hay, tree leaves and compost are some options of organic matter. Incorporate two to four inches of organic matter into the existing soil as deep as possible. Otherwise, the plant roots may have difficulty penetrating across the barrier created between the organic matter and the old soil. (Cynthia Domenghini)
Ward Upham runs the Horticulture Response Center in the Department of Horticulture and Natural Resources at Kansas State University. Other contributors include K-State Extension Specialists.