Monthly Archives: January 2018

  1. Understanding Container Citrus Tree Fertilization

    Understanding fertilizing your container Citrus should begin with some words of caution. Fertilizing should never be administered as a medicine to cure a poorly performing plant. This means that a properly fertilize plant should never need fertilizing to cure poor performance.

    For example, plants grown in the nursery receive consistent care, which includes proper feeding. When one receives a new plant, typical symptoms that might arise from the adjustment to a new location - such as yellowing leaf, leaf wilt and leaf drop - rarely have anything to do with the plant’s nutrition. Most often these symptoms are the result of changes in the plants environment such as lower light, exposure to an excessively dry environment or over watering. All care should be given to providing the best location for your citrus plant and developing watering habits with attention to keeping your Citrus plant on the dry side.

    Only after you have found a spot with consistent light and understand how to water without over watering does the need for a consistent fertilizing program come into play.

    If you receive your plant in the fall, odds are that it has been fed at the nursery to support hardiness going into the winter. There should be no need for another application until later in the winter.

    A properly fertilized young container Citrus is one that has applications of organic fertilizer applied quarterly beginning in late winter. As the tree grows into larger containers the feeding becomes more frequent. Citrus likes an acidic soil, so it is preferable to use an acid based fertilizers.

    Acid fertilizers are fertilizers traditionally recommended for Azaleas, Camelias and Rhododendrons.

    An acid soil mix consisting of Bark, Peat Moss, and Coir are always recommended for Citrus container planting.                                                                                                                             

    Acid Fertilizer helps to maintain the pH of your soil at a level suitable for citrus. This is of concern if you know your waters pH is 7 or above. Your water purveyor will provide your water’s pH, and a simple soil test kit can tell you your soil’s pH. It is recommended that organic fertilizers be applied by following the recommendations on the bag for your fertilizer.

    To adjust the pH of soil, an application of Soil Sulfur or regular additions of Cottonseed Meal can help to maintain a healthy pH between 5.8 and 6.0.

    High Nitrogen fertilizers quite often affect the health of the soil and the growth of the tree by disturbing the soil biology. They are not recommended for container growing of citrus.

    All container Citrus plants should be mulched. Mulching has the same effect in a container that it does in the ground. It works to keep roots cool in hot weather, cuts down on evaporation, increases the time between watering, keeps weeds down and in time will provide a nutrient source as it breaks down into organic matter.

    Applying organic fertilizers to mulched container Citrus can pose a challenge as the fertilizer will rest and cake on top of your mulch. Make sure to distribute your fertilizer evenly around the surface in the pot and water in thoroughly until the fertilizer works down into your mulch.

    Maintaining the mulch layer inside your container will also help to maintain the microbiology inside. Try not to disturb the mulch - but do add fresh mulch to the surface yearly or as needed. Try to maintain a 2-inch layer inside of the container.

    Raising Citrus in a container is like raising fish in a fish tank. The chemistry in the container-grown Citrus plant depends on you providing the food that supports the biology in the soil that feeds the plants root system and in turn keeps your tree healthy.

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  2. When Planting, Take Your Lead From Nature

    The kids are gone, and you don’t need as much lawn as you used to?  Consider using some native grasses and a simple gravel path to create such an incredible retreat and focal point in your yard.

    What to plant - that is the “perennial” question from many of our customers. 

    With so many options available these days - and a never-ending list of new plants being introduced by nurseries not only from the US, but from other countries as well - it’s a challenge to know what will grow in your yard.

    Trends for planting right now? Plant natives and pollinators to help attract beneficial insects to your yard, and help maintain better health for the bees. It makes good sense to use plants that work in your yard, offering you a good supply of flowers (and pollen) from early in the season until late in the year - and if you live in warmer areas - to offer a source of pollen year-round. 

    Maybe you can’t control the way others handle chemical use and adding pollinators, but you can make a difference in your own yard. Cut back on your chemical use especially when it is not needed, or use only as a preventative. There is a better approach using safer alternatives or home remedies that can help solve some simple problems with insects or disease in your own yard. 

    Using a grouping of native Birch clumps create a cool and shaded micro-climate beneath so you can include some of your favorite shade loving plants.

    Get familiar with native trees, shrubs, roses, vines, and perennials that grow naturally in your area. The native range for plants changes by region and by the climate in a region. Nature Hills offers many natives, all you need to do is find out the natives where you live.

    Not only can you ask your local extension office or garden clubs, but you can ask a neighbor or plant lover who might be a good source for what plants perform well in your immediate area.

    When you are out doing your daily routine or errands, pay attention to what is growing well in your local area and utilize those plants for the bones of your landscape. What looks healthy and offers color at a time of the year that your yard is lacking color?

    Look at how nature arranges plants in undisturbed areas. Watch how those areas change with the seasons offering color, texture, or fruits and berries for attracting wildlife to that area. There is a reason a plant grows where it does in nature. Hot, dry, south facing-sites create a very different microclimate than the north-facing slopes that will have cool soils with plants that will need more moisture. Check out your own yard and see what areas are sunny and dry. Use plants that you are seeing doing well in your area for those hot, dry sites.

    Look at how landscapes are being planted for new construction projects. What trends are you seeing that you like? There is no reason you can’t borrow those design ideas for your own yard. 

    Native plants are plants that reside in undisturbed sites and have a relationship with the plants and animals in the area over thousands of years. Native plants include selections that some call “nativars” or selections (cultivars) of the native plants that have superior characteristics. Larger flowers, shorter plants, more fruit, better fall color and a whole lot more! All reasons for bringing a new form of the native plant to market.

    With a backdrop of natural grown Green Giant Arborvitae shown above, and the introduction of color makes for an incredible and interesting landscape.  Check out the use of cut tree limbs formed into a natural trellis for flowering vines or even climbing veggies.

    Remember when introducing new plants to your yard to look at the site where the plant will be installed. Make sure the plant will get the right amount of sun or shade, and the type of soil in that location will best support healthy establishment and growth. 

    You can plant native trees in your town or city and they will thrive and live forever, right? Not necessarily. Planting an oak tree in a sidewalk area in a downtown concrete jungle is most likely not going to mimic where that oak tree would grow natively.

    It is so important to look at where certain healthy plants are growing because there is a reason it is doing well in that location. 

    Be aware of the plants around you, and how they are being used where you live. Watch for interesting design ideas that you too can borrow for your own landscape. Incorporate native and “nativars” and pollinators in your yard. Learn to watch and appreciate the plants in your environment and the wildlife they attract - and most of all…enjoy!

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  3. Winter Landscape: Brown Is a Color Too …

    Most of us think of the winter landscape in many parts of the country as bleak or boring and just brown. Keep in mind that brown is a color too … and so many different shades of brown that can be accented by many other colors in the landscape for some beautiful results.

    One of the most obvious dormant winter plants are the native and ornamental grasses. The grasses turn brown in many parts of the country for the winter months. Grasses are wildly popular and continue to grow in popularity mainly because of the whole new dimension they add to the dormant winter landscapes. The dramatic fall colors that precede the dormant winter color of grasses vary and can be wildly showy with reds, purples, oranges and many shades of brown.

    Native and ornamental grass selections have become a staple in most all residential and commercial landscapes. They offer interesting substance in the winter landscape not only with color, but movement. The attractive seed heads and feathery dried flowers wave in the wind and look amazing when lit with some landscape lighting during the growing season and when dormant too.

    Mixing broadleaved evergreens - like boxwood and hollies - works well in combination with all grasses. Backdrops of pines, fir and spruce really set off the beauty of dormant grasses. Using grasses with Japanese Yews, Distylium, or some of the many different Junipers create some nice harmony in your plantings.

    Let’s think about how Hydrangeas add to the dormant landscape. The newer Hydrangeas are shorter, offer more flowering and many colors, but turn brown when dormant. Those dried, dormant flower heads make very bold statements in the landscape and they last forever. Dried Hydrangea blooms are incredibly useful for decoration, and they catch and sculpt the snow beautifully in the landscape.

    What about those perennial borders? Don’t be in such a hurry to cut all those beautiful seed heads offering many different shades of brown. Coneflowers and Blackeyed Susan offer not only attractive seed heads, but are nature’s bird feeders. Those perennial borders with all their brown and dormant mounds of leaves and stems are home to many beneficial insects and offer some winter protection for birds and other wildlife as well.

    Some plants like the Russian Arborvitae (Microbiota) go dormant in the fall by transforming the soft green and fluffy ground cover to a beautiful brown color. Now think about a beautiful green evergreen ground cover used in a more natural setting that morphs into the color of a cedar sided home blending into the landscape like no other plant. It’s brilliant and looks amazing.

    Probably our favorite plants that turn brown during the dormant months must be the family of Oak trees. Oak trees are strong, long lived, and many have amazing character. There are many new introductions that have improved forms and hybrid vigor. 

    Now, we can hear you saying … “Oak trees grow so slow” … au contraire! Young transplanted Oak trees may take a year or a bit more to re-establish in your yard, but once they get past that break in period, Oak trees grow quite rapidly. They soon become a favorite in everyone’s yards.

    The other interesting thing about many Oak trees is young trees many times hold their leaves into spring. Holding their brown foliage offers interest, screening, and beautiful backdrops to other plants in your landscape. Even as these beautiful trees get larger, they many times hold the bottom third of their foliage in winter. It does add some interest to your winter landscape, and is something to take note of. Check out this young Oak (left) with its leaves holding tight in early winter. 

    We are just talking “browns” today … but just imagine what the fruit of a holly, crabapple, Viburnum or Hawthorn can do to your winter landscape! 

    Look around the landscapes in your area and see which plants provide some winter interest near you. Send us a picture if you cannot identify a favorite plant kicking up the interest in the landscape near you, and let’s see if we can help you find out what plant you are liking these days. 

    Your homework is to look for year-round interest, cover and food for birds and beneficial insects, and diversity of plants and trees - all things that keep your landscape the envy of the neighborhood. Now is a great time to find the plants that will increase the aesthetics of yard and home. 

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  4. Adapt Your Fruit Tree to Your Home Garden

    The desire to grow your own fruit has never been more popular than today. The access to different fruit types has never been better. The internet makes the possibility of what you can grow seem limitless. But there is one limit that all who desire to be successful at producing home grown fruit should consider in their pursuit, and that is adaptation.

    Cold winter temperatures, extreme hot dry summer temperatures, inadequate sunlight, poor draining soil conditions, susceptibility to local diseases and size control are some common adaptation considerations.

    Depending on where you live, your selection of what fruit to grow may often require special needs to keep it healthy and productive.

    Some things to keep in mind when choosing what you would like to grow are:

    - Is this plant recommended in my USDA climate zone? USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map

    - If not, search out information on other home gardeners that may have been successful with your desired selection. See how they adapted the plant to achieve success in your area. If you are willing to put in the extra effort, go for it! If not, seek out the similarities of your desired selection by descriptions and try something new.

    - Light is essential when growing plants outdoors or bringing plants indoors for winter protection. For outdoor, select a location with at least 8 hours of sunlight, preferably morning sun as it is the drying/warming sun. When adapting them to an indoor environment, choose the brightest location possible. In many cases, artificial grow lights will be necessary to provide adequate light for plants grown indoors. This is common with citrus and should be researched well.

    - Poor drainage is the #1 reason people lose plants. This is common both in the ground where soggy soils deplete oxygen and suffocate plant roots. This also happens in container growing. Overwatering allows too much water to collect in the bottom of the container where root damaging diseases get started and challenge the plant’s rooting ability. Study your outdoor drainage in the locations where you intend to plant and add a raised bed or a tall mound in poor draining locations. Always be careful not to over water your container plants especially after bringing them indoors. This is also a very common problem with citrus.

    - Plant diseases can be very disappointing and costly. For your plant selection, research what diseases might be prevalent in your area and then choose resistant options if available. Look up your local ag advisors to get current information on how others are dealing with common diseases and decide if those are adaptions you are willing to take on to enjoy your fruit choice. Consult local Master Gardeners to find the varieties that do well in your area.

    - Short of apple rootstocks, most semi-dwarf rootstocks do not control the growth of the tree to a reasonable size. Even with apples, the rootstock most associated with successful dwarfing requires some sort of trellis or system of maintenance to make them successful. Pruning is the only true means of size control of any fruit tree. Be sure to familiarize yourself with basic pruning techniques and just do it!   

    There are so many varieties of fruit to enjoy that with a little planning and understanding of responsibility, your successful adaptation should be a sure thing.

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