January “In The Grow”

Due to the wonders of technology, I received eight or nine questions in a less than timely fashion. If you wrote me this fall, I now have your questions and will answer them over the next couple of columns. I know one of you needed help winterizing mums and now it’s too late! Throw some mulch on them, and I’ll answer the question in more detail soon! Sorry about the delay.

Q. Are there any ways to keep raccoons out of a sweet corn garden? Mary Walker, Loogootee, Ind.

A. One of the most effective methods is to place an electric fence or “hot wire” around the corn planting. Two wires placed 8 and 18 inches above the ground should keep the raccoons at bay.

At our nursery, we use wire enclosed in plastic tape, which is nice because it’s highly visible so there are no accidental shocks to humans. It is available at farm supply stores.

Live trapping is another alternative. Raccoons can be suspicious of the trap, so wire the trap door open for two to three days and bait it daily. The animals will learn to come and go from the trap and will be in for a surprise when the wires are removed. Effective baits include corn, fish, fish-flavored cat food and bacon. Attract the raccoons’ attention with a ball or other shiny object in the trap. Contact the Indiana Department of Natural Resources for disposal instructions. In some areas, they can tell you where to relocate the animal.

Q. I have a 3-year-old-tulip tree. It’s out in the front yard and gets plenty of sunshine. How old do they have to be before they start bearing flowers? Bonnie Lewis, La Otto, Ind.

A. The tulip flower is extremely interesting but not particularly showy and I’m afraid none of my references give an age range for flower production. Many trees have a juvenile period (typically up to 10 years) and most require three years just to settle in to their new situation. With full sun, adequate water and nutrition, I’m sure your tree will flower eventually.

Q. I would like some specific help. We built a house a year ago. The builder planted a maple tree. We had hoped it would show more growth this summer. What can I do to enhance its growth and beauty? Thanks. Brian Nelson via e-mail.

A. Maples grow quickly, but all trees suffer from some transplant shock and grow very little their first year. You can help your tree recover and grow more quickly by meeting all its needs. Maples, in particular, have thin bark, and the trunks need to be wrapped with a commercially available tree wrap in late fall for adequate winter protection. Remove the wrapping material in the spring. Wrap the trunk each fall until the bark becomes rough and corky.

Watering is the most critical factor in caring for newly planted trees and shrubs. Over watering is just as injurious as under watering. On well-drained soils, apply 1 inch of water per week during the summer and fall. On sandy soils, at least 2 inches of water per week are needed, preferably in two applications of 1 inch each. Poorly drained, clay soils require less frequent water.

Many different fertilizer formulations are available. Research has shown that most of the feeder roots of a tree will be at and beyond the drip line rather than next to the trunk. The amount of fertilizer to apply is critical. In general, a rate of 2 to 4 pounds of actual nitrogen applied over 1,000 square feet per year is ideal. Split it into two applications, such as early spring just as buds are breaking and again in fall after leaves drop.

Phosphorous and potassium stay in the soil longer than nitrogen, making their application necessary only every 3 to 5 years. Follow label directions and application rates carefully. Remember to account for the fertilizer you apply to surrounding turf!

Q. I am a third-grade teacher at Shakamak Elementary School. We are preparing to plant a butterfly garden on the school grounds. We have had top soil delivered and have an area of around 300 square feet. Soil tests show that we need fertilizer. Our soil also appears to be neutral to alkaline. We will be planting perennial plants and annuals. When would be a good time to apply the fertilizer, and how much would you recommend? When would be a good time to plant the perennials? We plan to start the annuals in a lab this winter in the classroom. I am applying for a grant from the National Gardening Association, and they recommend having a Master Gardener’s help and advice. Are there any Master Gardeners in the Greene County or Clay County area? Thank you for your help! Mickey Walker

A. The Perennial Plant Association also gives grants for perennials used in educational school settings. Write to Dr. Steven Still, 3383 Schirtzinger Road, Hilliard, Ohio 43026 for a grant application.

Some sources for plant material include Prairie Nursery for wildflower seeds and plugs. They can be reached at 1-800-476-9453. Call Bluestone Perennials at 1-800-852-5243 for perennial plugs.

The company that performed the soil tests should have given you fertilizer recommendations. You might ask for their recommendations if you didn’t receive them. Without knowing the deficiencies of your soil, it’s impossible for me to give you an accurate application rate. Starter fertilizer for turf is generally along the lines of 8 pounds of 8-24-6 or 16 pounds of 5-12-5 per thousand square feet. Apply the fertilizer when preparing the seed bed.

Plant the annuals after your frost-free date, typically around mid-May. The perennials can be safely planted in April. Harden them off first by bringing them outdoors during the day and back in during the night for about one week before planting.

To locate helpful Master Gardeners, call the Clay County Extension Office. Greene County is proposing to start a program this winter. Good luck!


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