Monthly Proven Tips and Solutions for Granite State Gardeners

Vince Noga

Forsythia blooms on current year growth so it is best to wait until just after flowering ends to prune any overgrown bushes and maximize bloom quantity. Like many deciduous shrubs they can also be pruned in late winter or early spring, but you will lose any flower buds on the stems that are removed. They are a relatively fast-growing shrub so over-pruning is rarely an issue. Annual thinning of the oldest, thickest, woody stems can help encourage new and vigorous growth for the highest bloom potential in following years. Thinning will also help with sunlight penetration and air circulation in the denser parts of the shrub, which can reduce moisture-related issues such as fungal and bacterial growth. For regenerative pruning all stems can be cut to ground level, but this should only be done every four or more years. If soil health and fertilization are in question, a soil test will be the best tool to determine what is needed to optimize growing conditions.

If you’re noticing mounds of fresh soil appearing in your lawn you may have moles. They are not considered a major landscape pest but are more of an aesthetic nuisance. Simply tamp down or rake out the mounds of soil and try to coexist as most retail control methods are relatively ineffective.

Moles are a common landscape nuisance that can cause unsightly mounds of soil in a lawn. There is a misconception that presence of moles indicates a severe grub problem in turf but that is not always the case. Moles will feed on grubs if they are present, but they also feed on worms, insects, and larvae in the soil. Repellents, grub control, and trapping have been shown to have limited success in controlling moles and the best recommendation is to try to coexist and wait for them to move out of the landscape on their own over time. When the mounds of soil appear in your lawn simply tamp them down or rake them out. If the mole mounds are accompanied by bare patches and excessive digging by other wildlife, such as crows and skunks, it may be time to investigate for larger grub populations and treat as necessary.

Raspberries are easy to grow and can be a great addition for anyone looking to add small fruit to their landscape or home orchard. Fruit production can be abundant with proper care and maintenance. Special care must be taken when pruning, but when done correctly the plants will thrive and produce berries for many years.

Raspberries are a popular bramble crop that can yield an abundance of fruit when properly cared for in the home landscape. They prefer full sunlight and grow best in well-drained, sandy loam soils rich in organic matter and with a pH of 5.5 to 6.2. Be sure to have your soil tested before planting to allow time to correct any deficiencies and achieve ideal growing conditions. Some varieties that are best suited for New Hampshire’s climate include Prelude, Boyne, Killarney, Nova, Autumn Britten, Caroline, and Anne. To prune, remove all fruiting canes immediately after harvest. Everbearing or fall-bearing varieties such as Autumn Britten, Caroline, and Anne can be pruned similarly for two crops per season or the canes can all be mowed to the ground in early in spring to produce a fall crop only. To help reduce issues with insect pests and disease remove all wild brambles within 600 feet of plantings and monitor for spotted wing drosophila (SWD).

Pine needles are often readily available and can be an abundant source of free mulch in the home landscape. They are rumored to acidify the soil, but this has been disproven. Like shredded bark, leaves, and wood chips, pine needles can be great as mulch for weed suppression, water retention, and adding rich organic matter to the soil as they decompose.

There is a common misconception that pine needles acidify the soil and should not be used as mulch. Studies have shown that this is false and they have no measurable effect on soil pH when they break down. Instead of bagging and disposing of needles they can be seen as an abundant source of free mulch if you have them in your landscape. As with other commonly used mulches like shredded tree bark, leaves, and wood chips, pine needles can help with moisture retention, weed suppression and moderation of soil temperature. They do not form a dense mat like other mulches which can improve water penetration. Pine needles break down relatively slowly so there is less need for re-application and they are a great source of organic matter for the soil.

Grubs are a common turf pest, but a healthy lawn can withstand populations that might overwhelm struggling turf. Achieving optimal soil conditions through soil testing and following amendment recommendations is a great start to a healthy lawn. Topdressing and seeding bare patches in spring and fall, along with weekly deep watering during dry spells, can all help keep turf thriving and minimize the effects of grubs feeding on the roots.

Grubs are often held responsible for failing lawns. They can contribute to turf grass root damage but are unlikely the sole cause of poor growth and establishment. Maintaining a lush, healthy lawn is the best defense against grubs and many other lawn issues. Healthy turf can usually tolerate populations of white grubs without showing signs of significant damage. A soil test will evaluate the below-ground conditions and provide recommendations on how to amend the soil to achieve optimal conditions for turf growth. Selecting drought tolerant grass varieties, mowing at 2.5-3” height, mulching instead of bagging clippings, and deep watering once a week during dry spells can all contribute to a healthy lawn. Fall is considered the best time for lawn renovations, but spring can also yield great results. Cooler temperatures, adequate rainfall, and good seed to soil contact are key factors to successful turf establishment.

High phosphorous levels are not uncommon in New England gardens amended with aged manure and compost. While harmless to plants and humans, phosphorus runoff can lead to algae blooms, which can be detrimental to surface water quality and aquatic organisms.

Adding aged manure and compost to gardens, lawns, and flower beds can be a great way to increase organic matter and essential plant nutrients in the soil. If soil test results indicate high phosphorus and more than 8% organic matter it may be best to hold off on these amendments, as they can contain more phosphorus than nitrogen and potassium. A balanced, slow-release fertilizer low in phosphorus, such as a 10-0-10, is a great alternative to get plants the nutrients they need without increasing phosphorus levels. Very high soil phosphorus is not toxic and will not harm plants or people, but when it moves into surface waters it can lead to algae blooms which harm water quality and aquatic organisms.

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