Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Planning for Color with Spring-Flowering Bulbs

Neighborhoods across Cobb County are awash in the reds and yellows of autumn leaves, and  the cool-season blooms of asters, mums, pansies, snapdragons, and more are keeping our landscapes lively, but we all know that winter will be upon us soon, and much of the color will fade. Forward-thinking gardeners, however, prepare for the early return of blooms with spring bulbs.

It isn't quite time to start planting most spring-flowering bulbs in Cobb County -- November is our best month -- but it isn't too soon to start selecting the bulbs and planning where to place them.

For gardeners who may be new to our area, the UGA Extension publication "Flowering bulbs for Georgia gardens," by Paul Thomas, Gary Wade, and Bodie Pennisi, describes the many flowering bulbs that can be grown successfully in our area. In addition to the familiar and hardy daffodils and crocus, gardeners here can select Spanish bluebells, glory-of-the-snow (which is glorious even without snow), hyacinth, star flower, rain lilies, and more.

The 2012 Georgia FACES article "Plant flowering bulbs now for color later," by UGA's William Tyson, emphasizes the importance of selecting high-quality bulbs that are large for their type and that are unblemished.

For planting, Tyson explains, "Most prefer a moist, well-drained, medium, sandy loam that does not remain wet and sticky after heavy rain or dry out too quickly. Good drainage is essential."

For spacing and depth, Tyson includes these details:

"A general rule of thumb for planting depth (from the top of the bulb to the soil surface) is two to three times the greatest diameter for bulbs 2 inches or more in diameter, and three to four times the greatest diameter for smaller bulbs.

Spacing will vary from 1 or 2 inches to as much as several feet. When spacing bulbs, consider not only how much space each plant needs, but also how frequently it will be dug up and divided."

For fuller information, read the complete text at the linked titles above.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Curing Sweet Potatoes Enhances Sweetness and Storage-life

Home gardeners all over Cobb County will be digging up their sweet potatoes this month, if they haven't already. These gardeners probably know what UGA Extension specialists Malgorzata Florkowska and Robert Westerfield, in their publication "Home garden sweet potatoes," explain about sweet potatoes -- that they "...should be harvested before the first frost. Cool soil reduces their quality and storage life."
Newly harvested home garden sweet potatoes    PHOTO/Amy W.

However, soil temperature isn't the only factor that can affect the "quality and storage life" of sweet potatoes; correct post-harvest curing and storage can vastly improve the sugar content and keeping qualities of home garden sweet potatoes.

Clemson University's Extension Sweet potato publication explains, "Sweet potatoes should be cured to heal wounds and to convert some of the starch in the roots to sugar. The optimal conditions for curing are to expose the roots to 85 °F and 90-percent humidity for one week. Few home gardeners can supply these conditions, so place the sweet potatoes in the warmest room in the house, usually the kitchen, for 14 days. No curing will occur at temperatures below 70 °F."

The online article "Growing sweet potatoes in the Sacramento area," by the Master Gardeners of Sacramento County, California, also notes that newly dug sweet potatoes are more starchy than sweet, and that the curing process that improves keeping quality also aids in the conversion of some of that starch into sugar.

For curing, these gardeners suggest using a slightly longer exposure of 10-14 days at 85 degrees F and 90% humidity. Most of us do not have access to the once-ubiquitous sweet potato curing barns (see this 2009 Master's Thesis -- Sweet Potato Curing Barns: An Agricultural Landmark) that were designed to provide these ideal conditions, but the Sacramento article includes ideas for how to create those conditions at home.

For storage after curing, the Sacramento Master Gardeners offer this additional information: "Once the roots are cured, they can then be stored in a dry, dark, well-ventilated place at 55° to 60°F for several months. Sweet potato roots are very sensitive to chilling injury at temperatures below 50°F, so do not store them at lower temperatures or quality will deteriorate. Symptoms of chilling injury include fungal decay, internal pulp browning, and root shriveling."

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Upcoming Events and Classes

Thyme to Read Book Club (note updated, slightly earlier start-time)
Friday, October 10, 10:30-11:30 10:15 -11:30 a.m. Book club sponsored by Cobb County Master Gardeners will meet at the Training Room of the Cobb County Water lab, 662 South Cobb Drive (at the intersection with Atlanta Rd.). This month’s book is The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton. November’s book will be The Founding Gardeners, by Andrea Wulf. Schedule and information can be found at www.cobbmastergardeners.com.

Landscaping and Septic Tanks
Friday, October 10, noon-1:00 p.m. Presented by Cobb County Extension Horticulture Agent Neil Tarver, as part of the ongoing Lunch & Learn series of the Master Gardener Volunteers of Cobb County, at the Training Room of the Cobb County Water lab, 662 South Cobb Drive (at the intersection with Atlanta Rd.). Free and open to the public.

Trees of Our Lives: Small Native Trees for the Landscape
Tuesday, October 14, 7:00-8:00 p.m.  Presented by Dawn Hines, as part of the ongoing Gardeners Night Out presentation series of the Master Gardener Volunteers of Cobb County, at South Cobb Regional Library, 805 Clay Road, Mableton, 30126.

Moving Toward Organics in the Vegetable Garden
Saturday, October 18, 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. Free and open to the public. Learn what organic gardening and farming really means and steps you can take to have a more environmentally friendly garden.  Presented by Cooperative Extension horticulture staff member Amy Whitney at the community garden at Chestnut Ridge Christian Church, 2663 Johnson Ferry Rd, Marietta, GA, 30062.

Gifts from the Kitchen
Tuesday, October 28, 6:00-8:30 p.m. Learn to use a water bath canner to make holiday gifts from your kitchen. Taught by Family and Consumer Sciences Agent Cindee Sweda at UGA Extension/Cobb County, second floor, 678 South Cobb Drive, Marietta, GA, 30060. $10 fee; preregistration required before Oct. 17; space is limited. For additional information and to preregister, call 770-528-4070.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Pansies for Winter Color

Even as the summer growing season winds down, homeowners are thinking about ways to add flowers to the winter landscape. Happily, garden centers currently are overflowing with flats of pansies, and those can make great additions to a yard.

UGA's Success with Pansies in the Winter Landscape, by Extension Horticulturists Gary Wade and Paul Thomas, includes helpful information for home-plantings of pansies, even though it was written for landscape professionals. In addition to a map that shows best planting dates for all of Georgia, details of how to amend the soil, plant, mulch, and care for the pansies through the winter are all explained.

For Cobb County, the first two weeks in October are shown to be optimum for planting pansies. For planting, the publication describes the procedure outlined here:

1. Raise the planting bed above-grade to help create well-drained soil - "pansies cannot tolerate wet feet."
2. Rake away any old mulch and remove and discard old vegetation.
3. Amend the soil with fully decomposed organic materials, but not too much (less than 25%).
4. Check soil pH and adjust to a range between 5.4 and 5.8.
5. Fertilize, but "Avoid using fertilizer containing high amounts of slow-release ammoniacal nitrogen."
6. Plant at 6, 8, or 10-inch spacing.
7. Mulch the soil surface.
8. Water! "A thorough watering immediately after planting will help eliminate air pockets around plant roots."

For fuller information about the above steps and about after-planting care of the pansy bed, read the article linked through the article title.
rs containinghigh amounts of slow-release ammoniacal nitrogen.