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Garden Tips

Archive for July 2016

PRAYING MANTIDS IN THE GARDEN

GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Published May 22, 2016

Not long ago a local gentleman called me because he had rescued several mantid egg cases laid in some tires that were being hauled away. He had heard that mantids were beneficial and wanted to protect the egg cases until they hatched. I am not an entomologist, so my knowledge of mantids is not vast but, I have learned a little about them because they are frequently encountered in gardens.

The mantid that most often catches our attention in local gardens and landscapes is the European mantid (Mantis religiosa). It is native to Europe, Asia, and Africa and reportedly entered North America on some nursery plants around 1899. It definitely prospered and can now be found throughout the US and Canada.

Some gardeners even buy mantid egg cases because the mantids are touted as beneficial insects. This is debatable. They do feed on other insects, but they do not discriminate between bad insects and good ones, like including butterflies and bees. However, they can certainly be appreciated as an insect curiosity.

The European mantids are not usually noticed in the garden early in the season when they are very small, but by the end of summer their elongated body has grown to a length of three or four inches and they are easily seen.

One thing that makes the mantid so fascinating is its unusual appearance. It looks a little like an insect that works out because it has large, well built spiny forelegs. The “praying” moniker comes from its forelegs that appear bent in prayer before they are used to quickly reach out and snatch prey.

Along with its “muscular” forelegs and elongated body, is an alien-like triangular head with large bulging compound eyes and a big, strong mouth for biting off the heads of prey. The mantid is also able to rotate its head 180 degrees, allowing it to scan a wide area for potential victims.

Another interesting trait of mantids is their ability to change color to blend in with their background. Their body may be colored bright green, brown, reddish brown, or gray depending on their surroundings. This ability allows them to camouflage themselves and let their unsuspecting prey come to them.

Did you know that mantids are sexually cannibalistic? The females are known to bite off the heads of a male during the act of mating. You can find videos of this phenomena online, but scientists say that this behavior occurs less than 30% of time when mantids mate in the wild. They speculate that it occurs when the female is hungry and needs nutrition for egg laying. Speaking of cannibalistic behavior, nymph or “baby mantids” eat each other if they do not have access to other food immediately upon hatching.

After mating, female mantids lay up to several hundred eggs in cream colored foamy egg masses that look somewhat like a styrofoam packing “peanuts” when they dry. The egg cases are typically attached to rocks, fence boards, tree trunks and branches, and the walls of structures. The adults do not survive the cold temperatures of winter, but in the spring their offspring hatch from the egg cases.

By the way, there is native mantid in eastern Washington. It is Litaneutria minor or the agile ground mantid. This ground-dweller is only about an inch and a half long and dark gray to tan in color, making them much less noticeable than the alien European mantid.

TREES ARE GOOD FOR US

GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Published May 15, 2016

I hope celebrated Mother’s Day with some pretty flowers or plants. They can help moms live longer! Recent research at Harvard University indicates that higher levels of green vegetation are associated with decreased mortality in women.

Harvard researchers found that women living in the study areas with the highest levels of greenery had a 12 percent lower mortality rate. The lead researcher attributes this lower mortality rate due to less air pollution, greater physical activity, more social interaction, better mental health, and decreased depression. This is proof that green spaces, including parks, street trees, and even turf, are important to our health and well being.

Too stressed out to think about it? Trees and green spaces can help. A university study in Scotland measured cortisol levels (the principal human stress hormone) in both men and women over the span of a day. Individuals experiencing everyday life stresses experienced lower cortisol levels if they were surrounded by green spaces.

If you find these benefits too vague, consider that trees and green spaces provide real economic value to our communities. A 1990 study in Sacramento revealed that residents whose homes had shade trees planted on the west and south sides of the houses saved an average of $25.16 over the summer in cooling costs. While not impressive on an individual basis, the savings were significant considering the large number of homes in Sacramento.

A study in Portland found that street trees added an average of $8,870 to a home’s sale price, as well as raising the value of nearby houses. Those conducting the study extrapolated these numbers to include the entire city and found that Portland street trees have a capital value of $1.1 billion and provide an annual benefit of $45 million. Considering the increased property tax revenues due to the increased in property values realized from homes with street trees, the trees bring in $15.3 million every year in revenue. This is greater than the estimated $4.6 million annual maintenance costs of the trees. This has Portland seeing “green” and as a result they have focused their efforts on planting many more street trees.

Need more convincing? Consider that studies have shown that paved streets shaded by trees last longer and needs less maintenance over time, saving potentially up to 60 percent of repaving costs over 30 years. Other documented benefits of trees and green spaces have shown that they improve air quality by trapping pollutants and particulates, decrease asthma and other respiratory problems, increase physical activity levels, improve mental well being, lower stress levels, provide protection from UV radiation, reduce noise pollution, calm drivers and slow traffic. Wait, there is more. Trees store carbon, reduce the heat island effects in cities, reduce violence and crime, and increase a sense of community.

Kudos to the Cities of Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland for their dedication to improving our communities with trees and green spaces. All three cities have been recognized as a “Tree City USA” by the Arbor Day Foundation. The award acknowledges them for addressing the core standards of urban forestry management which are maintaining a tree board or department, having a community tree ordinance, celebrating Arbor Day, and spending at least $2 per capital on urban forestry. All three cities celebrated Arbor Day last month and worked with volunteers to plant trees in our city parks and along our streets.

NEW AND IMPROVED SHRUBS FOR HOME LANDSCAPES

GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Published May 8, 2016

Flowering shrubs were once a staple of home landscapes, but over time they have lost their fan base. Reasons for this loss of popularity may have been their large size and limited seasonal interest. I can recall the Vanhoutte spirea (S. x vanhouttei) in the front of the house where I grew up. In spring it was magnificent when covered with clusters of small white flowers, but the rest of the year it was unremarkable except for its huge size, growing 5′ to 8′ tall and 7′ to 10′ feet wide.

Today, plant purveyors are continually working to offer new flowering and evergreen shrubs for the home landscapes. Many of these are more compact and have multi-seasonal interest, such as springtime flowers, bright fall color, or interesting bark. Other desirable traits include prolonged or repeat bloom, remarkable foliage colors and textures, low maintenance requirements, and pest resistance. Every year I get excited about all the new shrubs being introduced to gardeners and this year is no exception. Here are just a few.

First Editions® Spring Lace Viburnum is being offered by Bailey Nurseries. Viburnums are one of my favorite shrubs, but most tend to be too large for my landscape. However, I might consider planting Spring Lace because it grows only 5′ tall and wide, has dark green leaves that turn dark red in fall, and is covered with flat clusters of fragrant white blooms in spring. Bailey Nurseries says it appears to be fruitless.

I also fondly remember a yellow climbing rose that grew in my grandparents’ yard. It grew very tall and bloomed only once in early summer. Ball Ornamentals is introducing a new series of climbing roses, the Starlet Beauty™ Series, for use in small garden spaces and in patio containers. Ball describes this series as the “elegant little sister of the large-flowered classic climbing roses.” Mauve, pink, ruby or tangerine colored double blooms are produced all season long. Ball touts that the plants are well branched growing 8′ to 10′ tall and 3′ to 4′ wide and can be trained to grow vertically or horizontally on a trellis.

When it comes to boxwood, I am not a big fan because of its odiferous foliage and vulnerability to winter sunburn damage. However, its compact growth works well in more formal landscapes and gardens. Monrovia is introducing Petite Pillar™ Dwarf Boxwood. It is a dwarf columnar boxwood that grows only 2′ to 3′ tall and 2′ wide at the base. Monrovia notes that Petite Pillar can be utilized effectively in containers, in limited space landscapes, or for creating small hedges. It does not need regular shearing to keep it neat and compact.

Every year Proven Winners introduces a bunch of interesting new shrubs. This year one new introduction is a cute little viburnum that will fit into any landscape. ‘Lil’ Ditty’ is a fragrant dwarf viburnum that only grows up to 2′ tall and wide with a mounded form. The creamy white flowers are produced in late spring and may yield a crop of showy black fruit if a pollinator is nearby. Speaking of small, Proven Winners also markets a diminutive forsythia, Show Off® Sugar Baby. It is perfect for the smaller spaces in today’s home landscapes, growing only 18″ to 30″ tall and wide with a mounded form and covered with bright yellow flowers in the spring. It does not require heavy annual pruning.

VARIETIES, CULTIVARS, AND HYBRIDS, WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Published May 1, 2016

Now that we have arrived at the average last date of frost, it is time to go shopping. I wonder what delightful new varieties of annual flowers, vegetables, perennial flowers, and shrubs are available this year? Before we go plant shopping, let’s review some plant terminology.

Variety vs. Cultivar: The botanist in me must point out that we commonly use the term variety incorrectly. A variety is a subspecies which is a naturally occurring sub-grouping within a species. Did you know that cabbage and broccoli are the same genus and species, Brassica oleracea, but each is a different naturally occurring variety? The scientific name for broccoli is Brassica oleracea var. Italica, for cabbage it is Brassica oleracea var. capitata, and for cauliflower it is Brassica oleracea var. botrytis.

A cultivar or cultivated variety is a sub-grouping within a species that occurs in cultivation, such as ‘Brandywine’ and ‘Big Boy’ tomato cultivars.

Hybrids: When shopping for plants you may find a plant described as a hybrid. What does this mean? A hybrid results from the cross pollination of two different cultivars. This can happen naturally in the garden or controlled by plant breeders. Sometimes a gardener finds a chance hybrid seedling that resulted from cross pollination the previous season between two different parents, such as two different summer squash cultivars. While interesting, the fruit of a chance hybrid squash is often not as desirable as the fruit of the two different parent cultivars.

In controlled plant breeding, parent plants with desirable traits are crossed in hopes of getting an offspring with the best of both parents. Offspring that do not “measure up” are discarded. When a hybrid plant with desirable characteristics results, it is maintained in cultivation through cloning or controlled pollination.

However, just because a plant is a hybrid does not mean that it has desirable characteristics for yard or garden use. The hybrid poplars seen in plantations along the Columbia River have been bred to grow very fast so they can be harvested relatively quickly for pulp production. In addition to fast growth, breeders have selected for resistance to certain insects and diseases along with resistance to wind and browsing by deer. They did not select for traits that would make them more suitable shade trees, such as more compact growth, less invasive root systems, or a longer life span.

F1 Hybrids: F1 hybrids are the first generation of plants resulting from a controlled cross between two inbred parent lines. Because of inbreeding, all the plants in an inbred line are extremely genetically uniform. The crossing of these two genetically uniform lines results in offspring that are also very genetically uniform, making them consistent in size, color, and other traits. Additional possible beneficial characteristics of F1 hybrids include increased plant vigor, better germination, and earlier fruit production. However, as with the creation of any hybrid, not all the resulting crosses are winners. Developing F1 hybrids is a tedious, time consuming, and costly process. That is why the F1 hybrids that make it to market are often more expensive than other cultivars.
When it comes to garden veggies, there is a plethora of old and new hybrid tomato, peppers, cabbage, broccoli, cucumbers, melons, summer squash, sweet corn, and carrots cultivarson the market along with lots of hybrid annual flowers, especially petunias and geraniums.

WHAT IS A QUALITY POTTING MIX?

GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Published March 20, 2016

When talking about growing plants in containers I usually emphasize how important it is to use a quality potting mix. Admittedly, this is vague and does not help whey trying to decide what potting mix to buy when you get to the garden store.

Back in the 1950s, the selection of bagged potting mixes was not difficult because there were none. Most gardeners planted their annual flowers in flower beds or regular garden soil was used for planting in pots. However, the problem with using soil straight from the garden was that it typically did not provide adequate drainage and aeration for good plant growth.

In the 1960s universities, like Cornell University, researched what materials worked better for growing plants in pots than plain soil. Their research was prompted by a nursery industry that was finding it difficult to find good topsoil for growing potted plants. They needed a readily available substrate that would enable them grow quality plants, one that was disease and weed seed free, was relatively lightweight, provided good drainage and adequate nutrients, and did not contain residual herbicides.

Cornell’s solution to the problem was a soilless potting mix called the Cornell Peat-lite Mix. Their basic peat-lite mix was 50 per cent, by volume, sphagnum peat moss and 50 per cent horticultural grade vermiculite. Their B Mix was a 50:50 mix of peat moss and horticultural perlite. Fertilizers were added to the mixes to provide nutrients for growth. At about the same time, the University of California developed their basic UC Mix that contained sand and peat moss in equal proportions.

Potting mixes have changed for a variety of reasons since the 60s. One reason is the expense of obtaining sphagnum peat moss and environmental concerns over the destruction of peat bogs in Canada and elsewhere. Compost, softwood conifer bark, composted manure, and coconut coir (made from coconut husks) have all been used to replace some or all of the peat moss in soilless mixes. Horticultural vermiculite has also fallen out of favor because it will compact if not handled gently, losing its ability to provide aeration and drainage. There also have been concerns about using vermiculite because its ore naturally contains 2 to 3 per cent asbestos fibers.

My preference in potting mixes is one as close to Cornell’s B Mix as possible, but this is difficult to find. As already noted, many companies substitute other materials for the peat moss component. This substitution works out well if the substituted material is fairly stable. Coconut coir and composted pine and fir bark all decompose slowly and serve as adequate peat moss substitutes.

Potting mixes that get a thumbs down from me are those that are predominantly plant-based compost or containing inferior components. These mixes are usually the lower priced potting mixes. While they may be dark and crumbly, they often do not drain well or provide adequate aeration. Stay away from mixes that contain sedge peat, soil, stones, and discernable pieces of sticks and twigs and ones lacking perlite or vermiculite for drainage. Do not use products labeled “garden soil.” These are garden soil and are not intended for use in containers.

Finally, remember that adage of “you get what you pay for.” Look for the recommended ingredients on the bags of potting mix and potting soils and invest in “a good quality potting mix” for your container gardens.

HEAT TOLERANT PETUNIAS

GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Published March 13, 2016

When it comes to petunias, I am a sucker for a pretty face, However, while a pretty petunia may pique my interest, I need to know more before I can commit, I need to know if the petunia is both heat tolerant and well-behaved, Can it be counted on for continuous bloom through the season? Will it get leggy in late summer? Is it self-cleaning, not requiring the removal of spent flowers to keep it blooming?

Petunias of yesteryear may have had gorgeous flowers, but they were not impressive once summer heat arrived and flowering slowed to a stop, When the Wave petunias arrived on the market in 1995, I fell in love, They kept on blooming prolifically throughout the summer, producing virtual waves of color, As with any new plant introduction, the available colors of Wave petunias were limited at first, but Ball Seed Company who introduced the Waves soon developed a larger palette of colors.

Since making a big hit with the first Waves, Ball Seed Company has greatly expanded the types and colors of Wave petunias, The original Waves were very vigorous with plants that grew 5″ to 7″ tall and up to 3′ to 4′ wide and worked well for containers and groundcovers, They were followed in 2001 by Tidal Waves, With name a name like that you can imagine these petunias were even bigger, growing up to 5′ wide!

In 2002 Ball introduced Double Waves with double flowers, in 2003 the Easy Waves, and in 2009 Shock Waves with abundant smaller petite flowers. My current favorites are the Easy Waves because of their more controlled mounded-spreading habit, growing 6″ to 12″ tall and 3′ wide, They do not have as much of a tendency to take over a planter and crowd out other flowers, but they still provide plenty of colorful blooms all summer. This year Ball is introducing three new Waves, ‘Easy Wave Pink Passion,’ ‘Easy Wave Silver,’ and ‘Easy Wave Yellow.’ I can not wait to give them a try,

While my first petunia crush was on Wave petunias, there are now other petunias that can turn my head, Supertunias were introduced by Proven Winners in 2006, Supertunias are vigorous, but less aggressive than Wave petunias and do not have the tendency to overwhelm the other plants in a container garden. Supertunias are heat tolerant, blooming throughout the summer, They do not require deadheading, nor do they become leggy late in the season, They vary bit in size, but generally have a compact, mounded habit, growing up to both 2′ tall and wide,

I was thrilled with the ‘Supertunia Raspberry Blast’ that I planted last year, The flowers were a bicolored bright raspberry pink colors, This year Proven Winners is introducing ‘Supertunia Honey’ with flowers that range from yellow, to pinkish-yellow, to an amber honey color, distinctly different from most other petunia colors. Other new Supertunias to check out include ‘Latte’ with creamy white flowers and with brown-purple throats, ‘Picasso in Blue’ with purple-blue flowers with a lime green edges, and ‘Picasso in Burgundy’ along three new members in their charm series with abundant petite blooms.

Surfinia petunias are yet another line of heat tolerant compact trailing petunias and are marketed by Suntory, While Surfinias are the most popular easy-care, heat tolerant petunia in Europe, they have yet to become as popular in the U.S, Suntory touts that their Surfinias do not get leggy like some of the competing trailing petunias and have shorter nodes, larger thicker leaves, and more branching.

Wave, Supertunia, and Superfinia petunias provide summer long color in containers and gardens even during the torrid summer months. I adore them all.

MANAGING BERMUDA GRASS IN HOME LAWNS

GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Written March 6, 2016

There are two main types of grassy weeds in home lawns, annual ones that come up from seed every year and perennial ones that persist from year to year growing from roots and runners that survive the winter cold. Controlling grassy perennial weeds in a lawn is a very difficult challenge. There are few, if any, chemicals available that will effectively kill the offending grassy perennial weed without harming the desirable lawn grasses.

One of the most hard to control perennial grassy weed is Bermudagrass. Bermudagrass is commonly planted in warmer parts of the country as a lawn and pasture grass. However, in our region it is considered a nasty aggressive and invasive weed in lawns and gardens. As a warm-season grass, it goes dormant during the cool months of winter and does not start growing actively until warmer months. It has tough wiry rhizomes (runners beneath the soil) and stolons (runners above the soil). It is sometimes confused with crabgrass because their seed heads are similar, but crabgrass is an annual that sprouts from seed every year and does not have tough persistent rhizomes or stolons.

Certain poor lawn care practices can encourage Bermudagrass. To avoid helping this dastardly weed, do not fertilize during the warmest months of the summer. This is the time of year when Bermudagrass is actively growing and fertilization at this time helps it grow even more. Abstain from frequent shallow irrigation and mowing short, practices that also promote Bermudagrass growth.

However, even the best of lawn care practices will not get rid of an existing infestation. If you can not tolerate this heinous weed taking over your lawn, you will need to consider using herbicides for management. In the last few years fenoxaprop, an herbicide, has become labeled for use by home owners for “suppression” of Bermudagrass. “Bayer Advanced Bermudagrass Control for Lawns” contains fenoxaprop.

It is important to note that suppression is the key word here. Fenoxaprop does not kill Bermudagrass outright, it only slows its growth. As noted on the label, using fenoxaprop to manage Bermudagrass involves repeated applications (every four weeks throughout active growth) over one or more years. Late application or missing just one application will significantly impair the chemical’s effectiveness. Proper timing of applications should be accompanied with lawn care practices that do not encourage Bermudagrass.

Of course, you could decide to “nuke” it and kill all the Bermuda grass along with your lawn grass so you can start over with a clean slate. However, even an application of the non-selective herbicide glyphosate (also known as Roundup, Impede, Knockout, and other trade names) is not a silver bullet. Bermudagrass is so tough that it will probably take several applications or more, spaced four weeks apart to kill this fiendish weed. (Glyphosate is should be applied when the Bermudagrass is green and actively growing.) Plus, once it appears dead and you till the ground, you should wait about two weeks or so to see if it any Bermudagrass begins to regrow and treat again if it does.

Warning! Common Bermudagrass does a good job of producing seed so even if you kill the existing perennial plants, it leaves behind plenty of seed that is viable for two years or more. If you are lucky enough to get Bermuda grass under control, it can easily re-invade the lawn from seed. Always watch for new patches starting to grow. Remember, I said perennial grassy weeds are difficult to control. In a couple of weeks we will talk about creeping bentgrass, another frustrating perennial grassy weed.

GARDEN NOTE: It is interesting to note that there are now improved hybrids of Bermudagrass available for planting lawns in the warm regions of the country. These hybrids have finer textured leaves, a darker green color, and they do not produce seed.

CONTROLLING ANNUAL GRASSY WEEDS IN YOUR LAWN

GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Published February 28, 2016

It would be wonderful if new weed-free lawns could stay that way forever. Right? However, weeds “get their foot in the door” when lawns are subjected to stress from the environment or poor management practices, including watering, mowing, and fertilization. However, weeds will eventually show up in lawns as they age, even in ones that are well maintained.

Much has been accomplished in the field of weed science for the control of broadleaf lawn weeds, like dandelions and clover. Whether chemicals are utilized or removal by persistent pulling or digging is employed, most broadleaf weeds in lawns can be controlled relatively easily.

Grassy weeds are a different story. It is difficult to pluck out most grassy weeds from a lawn interspersed with regular lawn grass. Using chemicals to control grassy weeds is difficult because many chemicals that will kill the grassy weeds will also kill lawn grass. Before you can begin to consider using chemicals to control grassy weeds in your lawn, you need to understand how grasses grow.

There are two main types of grassy weeds, annual and perennial. Annual grasses die and come up again from seed every year. Crabgrass and annual bluegrass are the two most common annual grasses that cause problems in our area lawns. Excessive watering, frequent shallow watering, and consistently mowing a lawn too short are practices that make it easier for crabgrass to get started in a lawn. Excessive watering and compacted soil are conditions favorable to annual bluegrass. Correcting these problems and making a lawn as healthy and dense as possible with proper maintenance makes it more difficult for both of these annual grasses to persist in a lawn.

Chemicals are available that can provide help in managing these two weedy annual grasses in lawns. Preemergent herbicides chemically prevent seed germination and are applied before the seed of the annual grasses have the opportunity to germinate and grow.

Crabgrass seed germinates in the spring and preemergent herbicides or “crabgrass preventers” are only effective if the application is made prior to seed germination. The right timing for an application of a crabgrass preemergent herbicide is when the soil temperature at a depth of one inch is greater than 55 degrees for at least a week. This typically occurs when the yellow-flowering forsythia bush has been in full bloom for a week or two.

While some annual bluegrass seed germinates in the spring, most of the seed germinates in early to mid-fall, growing rapidly during mild winter and early spring weather, flowering in the spring and summer and producing lots of seed. Preemergent herbicides applied before crabgrass germinates will not persist long enough to prevent most of the seed from germinating. However, preemergent herbicides applied in the spring for preventing crabgrass will discourage early germinating annual bluegrass seed. For effective control of annual bluegrass, a preemergent herbicide should be applied in mid-August.

There are also postemergent herbicides available to kill seedlings of crabgrass and annual bluegrass if a preemergent materials are not applied at the right time. However, these chemicals are only effective if the plants are relatively young and small. These materials have the potential to injure your lawn grass if not applied correctly, so be sure to read the label and follow the directions before use.

SUCCESS IN GROWING YOUR OWN TRANSPLANTS

GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Published February 21, 2016

Do you plan on growing your own vegetable transplants from seed this year? The keys to success are ordering your seed early, using the right potting mix, planting in clean containers, providing adequate light, and sowing the seeds at the right time.

Now is a good time to be buying seed both for growing transplants and for planting directly in the garden. First, take some time to carefully plan out your garden and decide what types and varieties you want to grow. If you are tight on space, look for varieties that are compact and recommended for containers or raised bed gardening. Select the types of veggies you like to eat and ones that are tastier when fresh picked or pricier when you buy them fresh at the market.

I often recommend using a quality potting mix when growing plants in containers and this is especially important when growing transplants from seed. Look for a well-drained soilless mix that contains peat moss or coconut coir fiber, perlite, and vermiculite and does not contain bark or compost.

Containers you use for starting seeds do not need to be fancy, just clean and with holes for good drainage. There are many seed starting containers available from local nurseries and mail-order companies, but you can save money by recycling various plastic containers, such as yogurt cups or margarine containers. Before using re-purposed containers or recycled pots, thoroughly clean and sterilize them by soaking them for 15 minutes in a (1 part bleach to 9 parts water) bleach solution. Finish by rinsing them well and letting them dry.

Inadequate light is often the reason why home gardeners experience failure when attempting to grow their own transplants. Once they germinate, plants need lots of light. Even the light on a sunny windowsill is often not enough. Gardeners who are serious about starting their own transplants provide supplemental lighting for their growing transplants. The easy, but expensive route, is buying a commercial plant stand with fluorescent lighting, but you can make your own with a two or four-tube fluorescent light fixture. To provide enough light for the plants, the bulbs should be kept 2 to 4 inches above the plants and raised as the plants grow. The lights should be kept on for 12 to 14 hours a day and turned off at night to give the plants a rest.

Germinating seeds and young plants need warmth, but not too much warmth. Daytime temperatures should be between 60 and 80 degrees and nighttime temperatures between 55 and 75 degrees. Too little light or too warm temperatures will lead to weak and spindly growth.

A final factor in transplant growing success is planting seeds at the right time, not too early and not too late. Frost sensitive warm-season plants, like tomatoes, will not be planted out in the garden without protection until the danger of frost is past and the soil is warm. The average last date of frost for the Tri-Cities is in early May. Tomato seeds should be planted indoors about 8 weeks before the last frost, peppers 10 weeks, and eggplants 9 weeks. Squash, melons and cucumbers are also frost sensitive, warm-season plants, but they germinate and grow more quickly and only need planting 4 weeks before planting them outdoors.

NEW VEGETABLE VARIETIES JUDGED SUPERIOR

GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Published February 7, 2016

From time to time I have written about the All-America Selections (AAS). These are new flower and vegetable varieties that have been judged by AAS to be the best performing new varieties for home gardeners. All-America Selections is an independent non-profit organization with the mission of “promoting new garden varieties with superior performance judged in impartial trials in North America.”

When gardeners start ordering seeds or plants they may see a variety that is “new and improved” or “better tasting,” but they have no way of knowing the truth of these claims. However, if a new variety is a national All America Selection (AAS) they can be assured that it is likely to perform well in their garden and offer something new or different than similar varieties currently available. In fact, not only must an AAS selection perform well in trials around North America, it must also “have at least two significantly improved qualities” over current varieties to be considered for selection.

While in the past flowers seemed to be the main focus of AAS selections, vegetables have been front and center in recent years. I suspect that is because many seed companies have been putting their energy into developing new and improved veggie varieties, the current focus of many home gardeners.

Let’s take a look at some of the new veggies winning the AAS designation for 2016. Since tomatoes are everyone’s favorites, I will begin with the two tomatoes that won the AAS award for this year. First is ‘Chef’s Choice Green F1.’ This is a modern hybrid that looks like an heirloom with large (9-10 oz.) beef-steak type fruit.

The fruit of Chef’s Choice Green F1 are very pretty with green and yellow-striping. The flesh has a sweet, citrusy taste and good texture. Existing varieties that it resembles are Aunt Ruby’s Green, an heirloom, and Fried Green F1. Other desirable characteristics of Chef’s Choice Green F1 include its “well-behaved” 5′ foot tall indeterminate vines and resistance to numerous diseases. Seed for this tomato can be purchased from Totally Tomatoes at http://www.totallytomato.com.

On the other end of the spectrum of fruit size is Candyland Red, a currant-type tomato with small .5″ red fruit. These little fruit are very sweet and richly flavored. Candyland Red resembles Sweet Pea and Matt’s Wild Cherry tomatoes but differs from other currant-type tomatoes because its growth is not as rampant, plus the fruit forms on the outside of the plant, making harvesting the tiny gems easier. While more compact in habit than similar varieties, these plants still grow 6-8′ tall and should be spaced 3′ apart with staking provided for support. Seed of Candyland Red is also available from Totally Tomatoes.

Other AAS 2016 vegetable selections include:
Pepitas F1 is a beautiful yellow-orange medium-sized pumpkin with green stripes, making it useful for fall decorating. In addition, its flesh can be baked and the naked or hulless seeds (pepitas) can be roasted and eaten. (Available in 2017.)

Prizm is a short kale (10-24″ tall) with bright green ruffled, curly leaves. The almost stemless leaves are tender with good flavor. The plants quickly re-leaf after harvesting. This kale is compact enough to be grown in containers and raised-beds. Remember kale is a cool-season plant and should be started early in the season. (Available in 2017.)

Look for these and the other 2016 and previous years’ AAS selections when buying your garden seed. They are varieties that should do well in your garden because they are “Tested Nationally and Proven Locally®,” All-America Selection’s tagline.

Photos from All America Selections are available at: http://all-americaselections.org/image_center/index.cfm

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