Friday, January 12, 2007

Soil pH for Blueberries

Brian of Glenville writes:
I will be planting some blueberry bushes this spring. The Cornell site says it needs to be acid soil. Can I test the soil now (January)? What's the best/cheapest way to test?
In most cases the soil in the Northeast is acid in nature due to the lack of limestone in the ground. But there are always exceptions to the rule. You can take a soil test anytime the soil is not frozen. Simply dig down about four inches and scoop a couple tablespoons of soil into a plastic baggie. You can test the pH of the soil yourself with a soil test kit you can buy at your favorite lawn and garden center or buy online. Or, you can take your soil, even mail it in many cases, to your county cooperative extension office. In New York, that is Cornell Cooperative Extension of Albany County or Dutchess County, for instance. They will test the soil for you and probably charge a nominal fee of a few dollars. Often times they will tell you how to amend the soil in case the pH is not where it should be for what you want to plant. Call ahead to make sure they can handle your request.
Good luck with your blueberry bushes!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Bittersweet vine control

A nice young person from Holyoke, MA writes:
We have an area of bittersweet, brushy growth and trees between our driveway and the neighbors' home. After we clear the area, our tree removal person says we'll have to spray continually to retard the bittersweet in order to plant a lawn. What are organic options for this sloped, part-sun site that will help us control regrowth and have an attractive, easy care planting? Thanks! (actually, I'm the organic-gardening daughter wanting my dad not to use Round-up!)
Answer: If you are interested in planting grass, here is what I suggest:
I am not clear about when you plan to get rid of the brush and I am not sure how large this area is, but, if you do the clearing in the spring, you can get rid of the lion's share of the weed seeds that are there if you are willing to let them germinate and then eradicate them. Don't plant the new grass seed until Labor Day or after. This way you can allow the weed seed to sprout and then kill them a couple times over the course of the summer. You can kill them by tilling again, spraying them with store-bought white vinegar or pulling them up by hand.
You could also spread sheets of clear plastic over the area and weight them down with stones. The plastic will allow the sun to raise the temperature underneath, (something like a greenhouse) that will kill the plants as they germinate.
Plant the grass on Labor day or anytime in September. Next spring and summer the grass should be growing well. Simple mowing, over time, should keep the brush and weeds under control.
If you are interested in planting shrubs or perennials, you can do the clearing anytime. Then, spread thick sheets of newspaper over the area and cover that with two to four inches of mulch.
Cut holes in the papers or adjust them so you can plant the shrubs or perennials in the bed. If you keep the mulch applied each year, you should be able to keep the weeds at bay.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Poison Ivy Control

Alan in Catskill writes:
We moved on to a property with extensive poison ivy. I tried a little Roundup, but was concerned about doing in the flowers and shrubs. Aside from a few dead leaves, no effect seen. I pulled up a lot of plants with long runners, but plenty left. Family members extremely allergic.What do you recommend? Thanks.
Controlling poison ivy is difficult but not impossible. If you can mow the area be sure to do that often. If not, pulling it up is a very effective means of controlling it, but be sure to wear protective clothing. The best time of year to pull the ivy is in winter when the plant has no leaves.
A concoction that a listener suggested a couple years ago (and one that many listeners have tried with success) is a mixture of one gallon ordinary white vinegar, one pound of table salt and 1 teaspoon of dish washing liquid. Spray this on the poison ivy leaves and vines. Be sure not to spray the surrounding plants. Be prepared to spray this repeatedly until the plant dies. Even with chemical sprays you have to spray more than once to kill this annoying vine.

Warm Winter Weather

Eric in Saratoga County writes:
Larry, just a question: with this unseasonably warm weather, my daffodils are showing at the soil surface. Should I mulch them now to protect them from the cold that will surely come soon, or let nature take it's course? Thanks
While we are experiencing some of the warmest weather ever recorded this winter, plants have a way of surviving these spells. I have heard about lilacs budding and other such phenomenon, but these plants will all survive.
As for your daffodils, it is useless to try to do anything to protect them from the eventual cold weather that will set in. These are just the leaves that are appearing now. As long as the flowers buds don't appear, the daffodil will return to its slumber once the cold weather hits. If it doesn't, then the daffies will bloom a little earlier this year. But don't worry, follow all of your usual daffodil care and they will return again next year.