October begins with drought, ends wet

This area went into the month of October in drought conditions. Seems like it has been raining ever since. This is good for replenishing ground water but not so good for farmers trying to harvest their crops. Crops really could have used this moisture in July and August. From local reports it sounds like advanced technology in corn and soybeans with drought tolerant seed was beneficial again this year.

Gardens were okay as long as they had supplemental watering. At times it was hard to keep everything watered. Even though we have had quite a bit of moisture in October, Sue notices that the slow gentle rains don’t always hit the ground in the shaded areas because of the tree canopies. Make sure your flower beds and trees go into winter well watered.

Sue had a report the other day from someone who plants Cherriette radish. Their spring crop was terrific but the fall crop which was planted in late July — not so good. Could have been too hot and dry for them this year. We hope they don’t give up on them for another year. Perhaps planting in mid-August when the weather has cooled down a bit would be better.

It was a terrific year for apples. Apple trees are usually in bloom by Mother’s day but this year it was toward the end of May. No frost hit the blossoms so maybe this contributed to the good crop. Whatever the reason, we will take it.

We have received information from Gary Wyatt of the University of Minnesota Extension about tree care for this fall. Drought conditions over the last two-plus years have left trees and other perennial plants visibly stressed this fall. Tree stress symptoms include abundant seed production, leaf scorch, early fall colors, leaf drop, limb dieback and yellowing or browning of leaves and needles.

Fortunately, several measures can help enhance tree and shrub health. Trees and shrubs — especially conifers (such as pine, spruce and cedar) and those planted in the last three years — should be watered generously until the soil freezes. Mulching newly planted trees also helps reduce winter root damage.

Young maples and thin-barked trees may benefit from sunscald protection to prevent the bark from cracking this winter and spring. This usually involves plastic tubes or tree wraps, which are removed in spring. These practices can also help reduce winter animal damage.

Protecting trees from rabbits, mice, voles and deer is another major winter concern. Mow or remove tall grass to reduce mice and vole damage. If the bark is removed or severely damaged around the tree, it will die. Protective physical barriers such as tree tubes, hardware cloth or fencing can be done when practical.

LaVonne would like to remind you all young or smooth bark trees need to be wrapped before winter. Do this now while the weather is nice as it is a pleasant chore, but can be a miserable job when it is windy and snowing. This is the voice of experience speaking.

If you’re unsure about what’s causing problems in your landscape, University of Minnesota Extension has a great web site to help homeowners diagnose tree, shrub and plant problems or identifying a weed or insect. This site also has links to the University of Minnesota Plant Disease Clinic and Soil Testing Lab.

Fall is also a good time to plant trees; water them until the soil freezes. The best time to prune trees is during the dormant season from January to March. Flowering shrubs can be pruned in the summer after flowering.

This is our last column of the year. We hope you all have had a successful and productive gardening year and are making notes for what you want to accomplish in 2014.

LaVonne Swart and Sue Morris, Master Gardeners