Monday, March 25, 2013

New Pet Bunny for Easter?

Bunnies and fluffy little chicks seem to epitomize spring for many people, and some of those people will be tempted to bring home one or more of the baby animals for Easter. For those who are very determined to bring home a new pet rabbit, understanding the needs and appropriate accommodations for the new bunny can make a huge difference in whether the bunny settles in effectively as a family pet.

Ms. Moonpie               PHOTO/Amy Whitney
 The Georgia House Rabbit Society offers both online guidelines and in-person classes to help new bunny-owners make their new pets welcome, and also helps people find out whether bunny-ownership is actually the right move for the family.

Like other domesticated animals, a pet rabbit, or a bonded pair of rabbits, can provide both companionship and entertainment. A happy rabbit is a joy to observe! However, bringing home domesticated rabbits requires a long-term commitment. Healthy rabbits live for about ten years, and their care can involve more expense than some families will be prepared for.

Bunnies need indoor housing and  regularly-cleaned litter boxes. Their daily needs include timothy hay, fresh bunny-friendly greens, pelleted food, supervised exercise time in the home, and quality time with their owners. The responsibilities are large enough that most children will not be able to manage these all on their own; an adult needs to be in charge.

People who find that the responsibility of keeping a pet rabbit is more than they had expected will need to find new owners for their bunny. Many, many years of breeding and domestication have taken a lot of the "wild" out of domesticated bunnies, which means that these pets cannot just be let loose out-of-doors with the expectation that they will be able to fend for themselves.

Georgia law also recognizes the duty of people to not abandon their too-burdensome pets. Section 14-11-15.1 of The Georgia Animal Protection Act notes: "it shall be unlawful for any person knowingly and intentionally to abandon any domesticated animal upon any public or private property or public right of way."

As with adopting any pet into a family, knowing and accepting the responsibilities involved are vital steps in the process. For families willing to make the adjustments in their schedules and budgets, the joys can compensate for the changes made. Looking into the "care health and diet" guidelines posted on the website of the Georgia House Rabbit Society can help families decide whether they are able to make a commitment to adopting pet rabbits.

Friday, March 22, 2013

When to Do What to Your Lawn

UGA publishes turf care calendars for the various types of turf-grasses that are most commonly grown here in Georgia. Using the charts to plan lawn-care activities can save homeowners money and can also protect the environment.

For example, if seed or sod for a particular type of grass is planted (following appropriate guidelines - see UGA publication Lawns in Georgia) at the most-optimum time of year for that grass, the odds of a new lawn's survival improve dramatically over seed or sod set out at a less-than-optimum time. The improved survival rates mean the homeowner doesn't have to re-seed or set out new sod anytime soon, saving both money and time.

Following the UGA guidelines for when-to-apply-fertilizers improves the odds of the lawn's actually using the fertilizer, rather than having it wash away into storm-water drains, then into streams that flow eventually into the sources of our drinking water, burdening the treatment plants that then need to remove the polluting chemicals from the water before sending it back to homeowners. Along the way, the excess fertilizers can harm the fish and other animals that inhabit Georgia's streams and ponds. If applied at the right time in the right amounts, fertilizers nourish the lawn and are not wasted.

In general, warm-season grasses like Centipede grass, Zoysia grass, Bermuda grass, and St. Augustine grass should be fertilized in summer when the grasses are actively growing. The calendars for Centipede grass, Zoysia grass, Bermuda grass, and St. Augustine grass (click on the linked turf type for the care-calendar in pdf form) show the best months for applying fertilizers and pre- and post-emergent herbicides, for adjusting the soil pH, for aerating the soil, and more, for each type of grass.

For Fescue, the most commonly planted cool season grass, the general rule about applying fertilizer when the grass is actively growing is the same as for the warm season grasses, but the timing will be very different because its active growth season isn't in the summer months.The Tall Fescue care calendar (click on the linked name for the care calendar in pdf form) shows that the best months for applying fertilizer are February, March, October, and November.

When it doubt about the best time for a lawn-care task, the UGA lawn-care calendars can provide some helpful guidelines.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Upcoming Events

Right Plant in the Right Place
Wednesday, March 13, 6:30 - 7:30 p.m. Free and open to the public. Presented by Cobb County Master Gardener Joe Washington, at Mountain View Regional Library on Sandy Plains Road in Marietta, as part of the ongoing Gardeners Night Out presentation series of Cobb County Cooperative Extension's Master Gardener Volunteers of Cobb County.

Plant Pick-up for 4- H Plant Sale
Saturday, March 16, 9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. Pick up plants ordered through the annual 4 -H Plant Sale at Jim Miller Park on Callaway Rd. in Marietta. For information on planting and care of your new plants, contact Cobb County Cooperative Extension at 770-528-4070 or

Vegetable Gardening Basics
Tuesday, March 19, 6:30-8:00 p.m. Free seminar for beginning gardeners covers the basics of vegetable gardening here in Georgia. Presented by Cobb County Cooperative Extension. Horticulture Program Assistant Amy Whitney will provide the information you need to get your garden off to a good start. Presentation will be at Cobb County’s Cooperative Extension Office, 678 South Cobb Drive, Marietta, 2nd floor classroom. Preregister by calling 770-528-4070 or email

From Your Garden to Your Table
Tuesday, April 2, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. Cobb County Cooperative Extension staff will provide gardening tips for growing abundant produce for your family and for safely preserving that abundance through canning and freezing. Event will take place at Cobb County Cooperative Extension, 678 South Cobb Drive, Marietta. Cost $10 at the door (cash, check, or money order, payable to Cobb 4-H). Preregistration required; call 770-528-4070.

Ikebana: Japanese Flower Arranging
Tuesday, April 9, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Free and open to the public. Presented by Donna Scott at the South Cobb Regional Library on Clay Road in Mableton, as part of the ongoing Gardeners Night Out presentation series of Cobb County Cooperative Extension's Master Gardener Volunteers of Cobb County.

Starting Your Spring Garden
Tuesday, April 9, 6:30 - 8:00 p.m. Free and open to the public. The second in the 2013 series of classes sponsored by The Green Meadows Preserve Community Garden. Presented by Cobb County Cooperative Extension staff member Amy Whitney, who will provide gardeners with the basics of what, how, when and where to plant in the areas available to them. Event will take place at the smaller Parks and Recreation building near the Boots Ward Recreation Center at Lost Mountain Park, 4845 Dallas Hwy.

Tomatoes: From the Turtle to the Table
Friday, April 12, noon to 1:00 p.m. Free and open to the public. Presented by Cobb County Master Gardener Renae Lemon at the County Water Lab at 662 S. Cobb Drive (the smaller brick building at the back of the property), as part of the ongoing Lunch & Learn presentation series of Cobb County Cooperative Extension's Master Gardener Volunteers of Cobb County. Renae will tell all you need to know about growing tomatoes.

Algae Control in Ponds
Wednesday, April 17, 8:30 a.m. - noon. Instructed by UGA Aquaculture Specialist Dr. Gary Burtle, at Cobb County Cooperative Extension, 678 South Cobb Dr. in Marietta. The workshop will present information about the composition of scum and blooms seen in ponds, their causes, and ways to control or reduce their intensity. Participants are welcome to bring water samples for identification of algal species or water analysis. Re-certification credits: Category 26 Aquatic Pest Control - 3 credits; Private Applicator License - 2 credits.Cost $5 at the door; refreshments provided. Seating is limited. Preregister by calling 770-528-4070.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Putting the Pruning Shears to Work

As winter begins to wane, the urge to get busy in the yard, preparing for the spring, is almost overwhelming for many gardeners. If the lawn is planted in a "warm season" turf-type like Bermudagrass, it's too early to do much work on the lawn. It's also too early for planting much of the vegetable garden. However, the flowering trees and shrubs can be a good place to focus some of that gardening energy.

According to the UGA publication "Pruning Ornamental Plants in the Landscape" by  Extension Horticulturists Gary Wade and James Midcap,
"As a general rule, plants that flower before May should be pruned after they bloom, while those that flower after May are considered summer-flowering and can be pruned just prior to spring growth."
The phrase "just prior to spring growth" means that the window of opportunity is going to be closing soon, for many of the summer-flowering shrubs.Wade and Midcap include not only instructions for how to prune woody ornamental plants, but also a useful list of shrubs and small trees to prune in late winter:

Beautyberry Goldenrain Tree
Camellia Japanese Barberry
Chaste Tree (Vitex) Japanese Spirea
Cranberrybush Viburnum Mimosa
Crape myrtle Nandina
Floribunda roses Rose-of-Sharon (Althea)
Frangrant Tea Olive Sourwood
Grandiflora roses Anthony Waterer Spirea
Glossy Abelia Sweetshrub

For roses, an illustration within the publication (and pasted here) offers gardeners some additional guidance in how to shape the different types of roses. More information about rose culture in Georgia can be found in the UGA publication "Roses in Georgia, Selecting and Growing Techniques."

Additional information about pruning crape myrtle, an especially well-loved landscape shrub, can be found in the UGA publication "Crape Myrtle Culture."

Hopefully, the publications linked above will provide some direction for the gardener's pent-up energies as he or she contemplates the coming of another beautiful spring.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Choosing Seeds for the Vegetable Garden

Seed selection for the summer vegetable garden can be a lot of fun - there are so many varieties from which to choose! However, seed selection is also one of the gardener's first lines of defense against diseases and pests in the garden.

UGA runs trials of vegetable seeds and publishes a list of varieties/cultivars that do well generally across the state, even with the disease and pest pressures that occur here in the Southeastern U.S. A new gardener can improve his or her odds of success by choosing at least some varieties from this list, which is included in UGA's Vegetable Planting Chart.

For example, the Better Boy hybrid tomato has the letters VFN on the seed packet. These letters indicate that the plants grown from these seeds are resistant to Verticillium wilt, Fusarium wilt, and root knot nematodes. These three problems are naturally occurring and widely distributed in Georgia's soils. All three can kill non-resistant plants. In resistant plants, infection can still occur, but the plants will grow and produce fruit in spite of the infection.

If a gardener is planning to buy plants rather than grow them from seed, looking for the VFN on the tag that comes with a plant can also be a good idea, since more varieties than just Better Boy will be resistant to those three problems. The UGA publication Georgia Home Grown Tomatoes lists more diseases for which tomatoes can be resistant and the acronyms associated with each one.

For cucumbers, the mildew diseases - both powdery mildew and downy mildew - tend to kill everyone's vines sometime in July or early August, but some of the UGA recommended varieties usually withstand the onslaught of those diseases a little longer than some other varieties.

According to Cornell University's Horticulture Department:
"Of all cucurbits, cucumbers have the most disease resistance as a result of breeding. The concern is bacterial wilt, which is spread by cucumber beetles. Beetles can be reduced by constructing tents of fine cheesecloth or using floating row covers over young transplants and seedlings. Covers do need to be removed early to mid-season to allow for pollination. If the resistant variety listed is grown, angular leaf spot (ALS), cucumber mosaic virus, powdery mildew, and downy mildew are of no concern. Slicers:Dasher II (Tolerant to ALS), Marketmore 76*, Marketmore 80*, Monarch, Salad Bush (not ALS resistant), Supersett, Trailblazer* (not ALS resistant); Pickles: Calypso, Regal, Score."
The UGA publication Growing Cucumbers in the Home Garden supports that statement of insect control's making a big difference in the success of the cucumber patch. This is what it has to say about cucumber beetles:
"Control weeds, insects, and diseases for optimum yield. Cucumber beetles, aphids, mites, pickle worms, bacterial wilt, anthracnose, powdery and downy mildew, and angular leaf spot are potential problems in cucumbers. The early and continuous control of the cucumber beetle is critical to success in growing cucumbers. The cucumber beetle can infect the plant with bacterial wilt as early as the cotyledon stage, when seedlings are just emerging from the ground. Bacterial wilt causes the plants to wilt and die."
The cucumber beetle comes in two varieties. The spotted version looks a lot like a ladybug. It's yellow, though, instead of red, and there is a striped cucumber beetle, too.

Squash Vine Borer larva and its damage - Photo/Amy Whitney
For squash, all of the summer squashes are susceptible to the squash vine borer (SVB), which kills plants by eating the insides of the stem close to the ground.

Ways to get more squash before this happens include planting early-producing varieties, planting a whole lot of plants, covering the plants with row-covers in the weeks before the plants begin to bloom (so the moths that lay the eggs of the damaging larva can't get to the squash plants), and more. Most of the available techniques aren't 100% cure-alls, and they all require some advance planning.

One more-sure way around the problem is to plant a completely different species of squash. There is a variety called Zucchetta (or sometimes Trombocino) that is actually the same species as many of the winter squashes and that produces zucchini-like fruits on crazy-long vines that are very resistant to the SVBs. For gardeners who have the space and are just "done" with the SVBs, this might be a way to go.

Although it may seem (at this point) as though there are a million problems lurking in the garden waiting to decimate your crops, thinking about potential problems now and planning ways to manage them, starting with the seed and transplant choices, can make the summer harvest more abundant and the whole gardening experience more joyful.