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Home & Garden: Preparing your plants for spring

Curt Swift
CURT’S CORNER
Free Press Gardening Columnist
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A number of people have mentioned a wet winter and have expressed concern about root rot on some of their plants. This past weekend I had the frost blankets on the lavender at my Mack and Unaweep sites uncovered and found some areas needing water while other areas had adequate moisture. This was in part due to the amount of organic matter and clay in the soil, as these soils hold moisture while soils deficient in these components tend to dry out quicker.

Both fields were watered in anticipation of spring and the frost blankets pulled back over the plants to reduce evaporation and provide protection from spring freeze damage. Insuring adequate soil moisture for spring will help reduce winter/spring freeze injury.

I have been seeing people spraying weeds in gravel drives and other barren areas to kill the winter annuals that are appearing. These include purple mustard, flixweed, and cheat grass. When people are out spraying weeds, you can be sure spring is on its way.



One of my neighbors was even out fertilizing his lawn. Unless you have water available to move the fertilizer into the soil, applying the fertilizer now will result in the majority of the nitrogen volatilizing and ending up in the atmosphere and not the soil. Fertilizing lawns now can also increase disease problems later. It would be best to wait until you have irrigation water available before you fertilize. If you want to fertilize earlier, the fertilizer should be in the liquid form so the product moves into the soil.

The buds on Siberian Elm and Cottonwood trees have been swelling, and the elms are shedding bud scales as is evident with the eighth-inch pieces falling on my car. Some years these Elms put out a tremendous amount of seed due to what is called “stress induced reproduction.” When trees exhibit this condition something stressed the tree the previous year resulting in the formation of more flower buds than usual. This concept is used in the fruit industry to increase the fruiting of table grapes and encourage apple trees to become fruitful.



Special knives known as girdling knives are used to girdle the trunks of these plants. These knives have two blades set approximately 1/4-inch apart to accomplish this task. This process removes a strip of bark down to the wood around the stem. This throws the hormone balance of the plant off kilter and increases the plant’s tendency to produce flower buds on fruit trees that don’t want to bloom and increases grape berry characteristics to include berry size. If grapes are girdled at veraison (berry softening or color break), there is an increase in berry sugar content and increased color development.

Sveto asked about the best time to prune fruit trees if you only have one or two trees. Commercial fruit growers with thousands of trees have limited time to get all the trees pruned and need to start the pruning process early. As soon as their trees break dormancy, fruit thinning, irrigation, applying fertilizer, and controlling weeds takes up much of their time. They therefore need to get their pruning accomplished before these other tasks become critical.

Individuals with one or two trees can wait until after leaves emerge even if the tree is in bloom. Waiting this late is actually the best time to prune if you are trying to control growth. Pruning in the winter stimulates growth while pruning after leaf emergence tends to result in reduced shoot growth.

Since most gardeners with just one or two trees have those trees in their lawn or near their vegetable garden, their trees receive excessive amounts of water and fertilizer. As a result their fruit trees grow longer shoots than they should. Peach trees should have new growth between 12 and 18 inches to carry the fruit. Peaches in the lawn often have 24 inches or more of annual shoot growth. Waiting to prune trees with excessive growth helps slow down this growth resulting in better fruit production and healthy trees. Reducing water and fertilizer around these trees is also recommended.

GJ Free Press columnist Dr. Curtis E. Swift is a retired horticulture agent with the Colorado State University Extension. Reach him at Curtis.Swift@alumni.colostate.edu, 970-778-7866 or check out his blog at http://SwiftsGardeningBlog.blogspot.com. He owns Swift Horticultural Consulting and High Altitude Lavender.


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