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The Scratch Test

Do the fingernail scratch test before declaring a plant dead.
by Kathy Van Mullekom, a lifelong gardener and gardening writer living in York County, Virginia

Winter’s harsh hand slapped my garden. Thankfully, the damage is seen only on a few plants.

My acre on a small creek in York County endures lots of wind, so much that I sometimes think I live in a NASA wind tunnel. Those cold winter winds can do more damage than frozen soil or heavy snow.

How cold wind damage happens can be puzzling. For example, I have four camellias near each other: two have nice green leaves everywhere while two camellias have leaves severely wind burned and browned across half of the plant (pictured above). I will take a wait-and-see approach before pruning the bad parts.

My wax myrtle hedge also looks sad – few green leaves anywhere.

Gardening friends tell me they see much of the same – browned, wind-desiccated leaves on gardenia, loropetealum and other cold-sensitive plants.

Before you declare any of those victims too damaged to recover, do a fingernail-scratch test. Using your fingernail, or a small knife or anything sharp, scratch some bark tissue along a dead-looking part of the plant. If you see green (pictured above), the plant is alive and will hopefully flush out new growth when warmer weather stabilizes and plants are motivated to get growing.

Once damaged plants have fully leafed out in late spring, prune them to remove any remaining dead parts. Apply a light fertilizer made for the plant variety – for example, acid-loving food for camellia, azalea and gardenia – and keep the plant watered during any hot, dry spells during summer. Plants are usually tougher than we think, and grow back healthy as ever.

PHOTOS: Plants in Kathy Van Mullekom’s garden.

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Water Wisely

Keep your garden properly watered for the biggest harvests and most beautiful blooms while conserving this precious resource. Your watering practices can make a difference between a thriving garden or a wilting one. Below are some watering tips from our experts:

General Watering Tips:

  • It’s best to water your garden early in the morning when the temperature is cooler and the water will not evaporate.
  • Late afternoon/early evening watering is also okay if the plants have ample time to dry before nightfall.
  • Many people like to apply a list mist several times a day. This causes the water to evaporate quickly and encourages shallow root systems.
  • Plants growing in full sun require more water than those in the shade.

Watering Newly-Planted Trees, Shrubs & Perennials:

  • Newly planted trees, shrubs, and perennials with roots close to the soil surface, will need watering on a daily basis.
  • Regular watering is essential until new plants become established.
  • The best way to water in the hot, dry weather is a slow, deep soak. The slow drip hydrates your plants at the soil line and thus gets to the roots and nourishes the plant.
  • Mulching around the base of the plant will help the water soak in, rather run off.

Watering Established Trees, Shrubs & Perennials:

  • Because older plants have established root systems, they should not need to be watered daily. However, even older established plants require regular watering during this time of year.
  • The best way to water in the hot, dry weather is a slow, deep soak. The slow drip hydrates your plants at the soil line and thus gets to the roots and nourishes the plant.
  • Mulching around the base of the plant will help the water soak in, rather than run off.

Lawn Watering:

  • Aerate lawns by punching holes 6-inches apart. This allows water to reach the roots rather than run off the surface.
  • Keep weeds out of your lawn and garden to reduce.

Signs You Are Under-Watering:

  • Soil is dry
  • Leaves are wilted
  • Leaves curl
  • Older leaves turn yellow or brown and start dropping off

Signs You Are Over-Watering:

  • Soil is constantly damp
  • Leaves turn a lighter shade of green or turn yellow
  • Young shoots are wilted
  • Leaves are green yet brittle
  • Algae and mushrooms are growing

Tips for Saving Water:

  • Don’t run the sprinkler longer than necessary. In an hour, 600 gallons can be wasted.
  • Know how to turn off the automatic sprinklers in case of rain.
  • Install a trickle-drip irrigation system close to the roots of your plants. By dripping water slowly, the system doesn’t spray water.

Goodbye August. Hello Fall.

Goodbye August. Hello Fall. While we love the summer landscape, we are excited to welcome all the beautiful plants that fall brings us. The weather is cooling off and that means welcoming football, tailgates, fairs and fall festivities. With fall comes the blooming of cooler weather annuals and show-stopping cool weather perennials. The garden enters a new season with a rush of rustic colors!

Here are a few things to do around the garden this month:

In the Garden:

  • Plant cool weather annuals like Dianthus, Ornamental Peppers, Mums and Asters.
  • Set out perennial ornamental grasses.
  • Divide perennials such as peonies and irises.
  • Plant trees or shrubs so they will be established for next year’s hot summer.
  • Plant spring-blooming bulbs like Tulips, Daffodils, Hyacinth, or Crocuses.

For the Edibles:

  • Plan your winter garden.
  • Prepare the soil for root and cool season cole crops.
  • Plant Broccoli, Cauliflower, Brussels, Sprouts, Cabbage and Lettuces.
  • Put in a crop of fresh herbs like Parsley, Dill, Cilantro and Rosemary.

For the Lawn:

  • Apply Fall Weed Prevention Kit.
  • Apply McDonald’s Premium Grass Seed and Fertilize.
  • Stop by any McDonald location for a complimentary Fall Grass Classes beginning September 13 through October 18. Every Saturday at 11am!

Home Decorating:

  • Groom, dust, mist and feed indoor plants.
  • Think about how you will decorate for fall.
  • Pull out Halloween decorations and look at creative ways to use them or add to them.
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