Getting back on track spraying fruit trees

The almost daily rain we had this spring really put a damper on fruit tree spraying. Pesticides work best if they are applied at least 24 hours before a rain. When a rain happens before the next spray, the effectiveness is reduced as the material begins to wash off. Even a light rain can wash off a percentage of the spray. Heavy rain can remove almost all of the material allowing diseases and insects to get a foothold. So you can see how difficult is was spraying fruit trees this spring.

But now it looks like the weather has finally straightened out allowing us to get back on a regular pest control schedule. It’s too late to do anything about pests that emerged early but summer spraying can control later emerging pests like apple maggot, codling moth, peach tree borer and others.

Backyard fruit growers often use an all purpose fruit tree spray mix that contains a combination of insecticides and fungicides to control a wide variety of pests. It’s much more convenient to use and store a single container than a shelfful of assorted specialty materials.

All purpose sprays are applied as often as every week or two, or as few as twice a season, depending on the formulation used. 

There’s a few things to keep in mind when mixing and applying pest control chemicals. These things are always printed on the label but in my experience,  I find that not everyone reads all of the fine print. A common mixing ratio is one or two tablespoons of product per gallon of water — that’s not very much. It’s tempting to pour in extra because it looks like that can’t possibly be a big enough dose to work, but it really is. Some people think they can approximate the ratio by pouring a quick dash from the bottle into their sprayer tank. I can guarantee that will always result in a much more concentrated solution than necessary. Always take the time to measure your materials carefully. 

Adjust your sprayer’s nozzle to the most efficient spray consistency. A fine spray is more likely to be atomized, like perfume from an old-fashioned perfume bottle, causing it to be blown about even in a light breeze. You are more likely to inhale finely suspended materials in that case. On the other hand, a very coarse spray will not give you consistent coverage resulting in too much material in one spot and not enough on another.

Wait until the air is calm before spraying to avoid spray going all over the place except where it’s needed, including in your face. Early morning is best because the air is usually still and pests are at rest and have not started flying around yet.

Spray all surfaces of the tree leaves, don’t just make a spray over the top of the tree. Pests often spend time on the underside of leaves. And spray deep into the center of the tree. One major reason for pruning fruit trees is to allow sprays to penetrate into the tree without a lot of unnecessary leaf growth getting in the way.

To get the most protection for your tree, apply enough material until all leaf and stem surfaces are completely covered with adequate amounts of material. With all purpose sprays, that means until the spray just begins to drip from the tree.

Wet all surfaces of a fruit tree to control hidden pests.

I always try to mix just enough spray so that none is left over.  Any small amount that I have left over gets applied evenly over my trees until it’s gone. Both conventional and organic chemicals will lose their oomph if left in the sprayer tank for any length of time and can corrode, plug up or otherwise damage sprayer parts. Always rinse out your spray equipment right after each use.

Bob

 

Using agricultural paper mulch in the garden

Through the years I’ve used a lot of different kinds of mulch ranging from natural materials like straw or grass to man made materials such as plastic sheeting. The plastic I’ve tried has been in all the colors of the rainbow plus some that aren’t. 

They’ve all claimed to have an advantage over plain black plastic. The color red was supposed to enhance tomato production. Light reflecting off of silver was supposed to confuse insect pests and on and on. Maybe there was a small incremental advantage they provided that could be seen over acres of crop, but in the garden I could never detect any.

One thing they all have in common is that they physically suppress weeds by preventing growth or inhibiting seed germination. I’ve settled on run of the mill black plastic.

This year I’m experimenting with agricultural paper mulch. It’s been around for some time — maybe you’ve tried it.  I’ve never thought to use it until I started reading about the problems plastic products in general are causing. Some countries have even threatened to declare war over it. Then there’s the problem of micro-plasics showing up everywhere in the environment.

Paper mulch doesn’t have those kinds of drawbacks. One big advantage is, over the course of a growing season, it will slowly break down. Then when the growing season is over, it can be tilled into the soil saving a lot of work removing it. 

There are biodegradable plastic sheet mulch products that farmers use but first generation materials leave behind undesirable by-products in the soil as they decompose. That’s the reason why many of these products are not approved for organic farming. The paper mulch I have has been found to be acceptable by an organic certifying agency.

When I opened the box, I expected to see brown paper, sort of like a grocery bag but it has a faint purple hue to it. I don’t know if that is a result of the manufacturing process or if the color was added to differentiate if from other paper products.

Like all kinds of sheet mulch, it’s critical that the edges are firmly secured so the wind doesn’t get under it and tear it or blow it away. Some gardeners pin down their mulches with metal landscape pins. I like to make shallow trenches that accept the edges of the mulch then I’ll bury the edges with soil, sort of like what a farmer’s mulch laying machine would do. 

Here I buried the edges much like plastic mulch.

You have to be a little careful when laying it down. With plastic if you start to veer off course, you can stretch it back in place. Paper does not stretch so any adjustments have to be made slowly over a distance. To minimize any placement issues, I stretch string as a guide when digging my trenches.

Paper mulch cuts easily with a pair of scissors or a utility knife.

It’s important to have a smooth seed bed too so that the paper will lay flat and not have open voids between it and the soil surface.

To plant, I cut an X-shaped opening and fold back the edges of the cut. Then I carefully dig out some soil and place the plant in the hole and fold back the paper.

The paper makes an attractive looking mulch when it is new, I’m not sure how it will look after being exposed to garden conditions for several weeks.

This fall I’ll let you know how it performs over the course of a growing season and how well it tills in to the soil.

Bob

 

Hay or straw for the garden?

Nowadays people use the terms hay and straw interchangeably and in most cases it makes no difference whatsoever. For example we say we were on a hayride at a get together even though the wagons are filled with straw rather than hay. Straw ride just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

In a garden however, getting the two confused can lead to problems in the future. Hay and straw are often both used as weed control mulch in the garden but the results you get can be quite different.

Hay is a crop that is grown and harvested as a feed crop for cattle, horses and other farm animals. Straw on the other hand is a byproduct of a grain crop, in our area it’s usually usually wheat straw that we see.

Why would that make a difference to us in the garden? The problem lies with hay. Hay often is made up of a combination of different plants growing in a field or meadow. Farmers will cut and bale the plants in a field like that to feed to dairy cows that are in their resting stage, called dry cows. That kind of hay is of low quality and is less nutritious than say alfalfa hay but that is fine for dry cows because they don’t require dense nutrition when they’re not producing milk.

Low quality hay often has a dull color and different kinds of plant stems can be seen.

You never know what plant combination you’ll get in a random bale of hay. More often than not they contain weeds that you can inadvertently introduce to your property. I’ve seen such tenacious perennial weeds like thistle come into a garden as a result of their seeds hiding inside a bale of hay.

Straw on the other hand, is much better for use as a garden mulch. Since wheat and other grain crops are so competitive in a field, they suppress the growth of many weeds. Farmers also will control weeds one way or another to ensure the highest yields they can get of valuable grain. That results in straw with no or very little weed contamination.

Clean wheat straw has an even, bright amber color.

Granted, there are exceptions to the rule. You can find weed-free hay such as one hundred percent alfalfa or timothy but these can be expensive. Sometimes straw can be highly contaminated with weeds if it was grown in less than optimum conditions.

Be aware of the difference between hay and straw when shopping for mulch.

Composting hay can reduce the number of weed seeds to a minimum but that has to be done the right way in order for the compost to reach a high enough temperature to kill the seeds. I’d be wary of composted hay unless you’re sure of how it was composted.

Sometimes you’ll see “spoiled hay” that may be high quality hay that was left outside in the weather and began to get moldy making it unacceptable as a livestock feed. That can be okay for use in the garden if you know it came from quality hay.

Bob

 

Weather related disease problem on sycamore trees

The extra rain and cool weather we’ve been getting has been a mixed blessing. It’s June and a lot of gardens, farms and fields haven’t been planted yet because of saturated soil and cool temperatures.

On the other hand it has been great for established plants like trees and shrubs. In most cases they’ve made tremendous growth except for one notable exception — sycamore trees.

It’s quite startling to see how little progress the sycamore trees in our area have made. Most of them have very few leaves on them at all.

The maple tree on the left is flush with new leaves while the sycamore on the right is nearly bare.

This is due to a disease called anthracnose, a fungal malady of sycamores that is present in varying degrees from year to year. This year’s outbreak is particularly severe due to unusual weather.

A lot of it has to do with timing. Rainy and cool conditions that occur a couple of weeks after bud break allows the anthracnose fungus to thrive. The longer that type of weather stays around, the worse the infection gets. That’s why our sycamores are looking so bad for so long this year.

There’s really nothing practicable we can do to cure or even prevent this disease.

Young leaves killed by anthracnose.

Fortunately, once it gets warmer and drier they’ll bounce right back. Most of the time, very little major damage is done to the trees. The most obvious permanent damage you’ll see is “witch’s broom” a disfigurement of the branches that occurs in the spot the fungus killed twigs. At that point several small branches will grow from a single point giving it the typical witch’s broom appearance. Once the leaves fill out, however, the disfigurement is not so noticeable.

Witch’s broom caused by anthracnose.

Dead twigs eventually fall to the ground and can cause a mess in the lawn. This is probably why some people think of sycamores as messy tree, but it’s not the poor tree’s fault.

Trees can be sprayed or treated but it really doesn’t do much good since the infected parts can’t be healed anyway. Waiting for the weather is the best course of action in most cases. It extremely rare for a tree to die from anthracnose unless it is under stress from something else such as being planted in the wrong area or has a lot of bark damage from lawn mowers.

A little bit of fertilizer may help your tree to grow back its leaves faster. Generally, trees growing in lawns will get the nitrogen they need from the fertilizer used to fertilize the grass.

Anthracnose will always be with us so it’s just something we’ll have to live with.

Bob

 

Dead head lilacs for better flowers next year

Many of the lilacs I’ve seen have put on a nice show of flowers this spring. Some could have been even better if their owners had removed the spent flowers last spring.

Not many people are aware that deadheading lilacs is the best thing you can do for them to stimulate better flowers next year.

I don’t fault those who didn’t get around to doing that last year. If you remember, we had a wet spring last year and in the rush to get things planted, lilac deadheading was pushed far down on the list of gardening priorities.

Several years ago I was responsible for a dozen or more lilacs. My helpers and I always took the time to take off those spent blossoms and it really paid off. It’s another one of those delayed gratification things that gardeners always seem to be dealing with.

The ideal time to dead head lilacs is right after they’re done blooming.

Deadheading is very easy work if you have a sharp pair of pruners. Just snip off the expired flower right at its base and let it fall. It can be time consuming on a large bush but after a bit you fall into a rhythm. To me it’s a satisfying job because you can see the old flowers accumulate on the ground as you work at it.  Plus you are aware that next year’s flowers will will be even showier.

Old lilac flowers never fall off. Instead their panicles turn brown as seeds begin to form making the shrub look messy. So taking off the old flowers also keeps your shrub looking nice and neat. To do the most good, deadhead before the seeds set. I like to do it just as the last of the flower color is left.

Don’t worry too much if can’t get around to snipping off the flowers, your lilac will still do fine without any attention. In addition to its reliable flowering habit, low maintenance is another reason why lilacs have remained popular since colonial times.

Lastly, a light application of fertilizer after deadheading will give your lilac the nutrients it needs to regrow its flowers buds.

Bob