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Growin’ Green

Don’t Pile Mulch High Around Tree Trunks

By Brent Gray

Callery pears, redbuds, plums and other spring-flowering trees and shrubs are in full flower in the Southern part of the state and just beginning to open in the northern counties. If any pruning is needed, remember to prune these deciduous spring bloomers after they finish flowering. Fertilize these trees and shrubs as the flower petals fall. If you haven’t done a soil test a good general fertilizer recommendation is to use one pound of 5-10-5 per inch circumference of the tree measured three feet above the ground. Certainly you can use a slow release fertilizer using the recommendations on the bag.
Finish pruning deciduous summer-flowering shrubs (those which form flowers on new growth) like Hydrangea arborescens ‘Grandiflora,’ Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora,’ and butterfly bushes (Buddleia). This can be done any time this month before new growth appears.  
Early spring is when that nasty little critter known as the vole (pine mouse) chews around the base of your prize trees and shrubs.  To hinder this creature, which prefers to feed “under cover” be sure that you do not pile mulch around the trunks or bases of any of your plants.
Piling mulch around the base of plants is unfortunately a common practice that is detrimental. Not only does this practice create “cover” for the vole, it also creates a perfect environment for disease organisms. Bark tissue is not designed to be below ground and that is exactly the effect achieved by piling mulch high around the trunk.
Green briar, privet, smilax, unwanted magnolia, cherry and other species are difficult to control in the landscape. Everything is now greening up and homeowners want to do something. Dr. John Byrd, Extension Weed Specialist, says the thing to do now is ….nothing. The best control method he has found is done in the Fall. Use this time to mark the calendar next October and gather your supplies. Dr. Byrd has found that using water picks to deliver glyphosate is much more effective than spraying or painting. Water picks are used in the florist trade to keep blooms hydrated. They are normally plastic tubes with soft plastic or rubber lids with a hole in the lid. Florists fill the tubes with water and insert bloom stems. Keep the water picks from the next big floral display(s) you receive and store them  empty. Next fall when leaves begin to turn, go cut the stem of the unwanted weed and quickly insert the stem into a water pick filled with undiluted concentrated glyphosate. Make sure the freshly cut stem is inserted all the way to the bottom of the tube if the stem bends and will not support the water pick inverted. Homeowners who have to do something now can try this method, but fall application works much better since sap flow is away from the roots in the Spring. Be extremely careful using glyphosate in the landscape. It will kill anything green it contacts.
Southern Mississippians have grass weeds the rest of us don’t have as much problem with. Torpedo grass (Panicum repens), also known as Jap grass, is one of those tropical weeds that don’t get much farther  north than I 20. The most effective way to manage this grass is with several applications of glyphosate.
Folks with bermudagrass or zoysiagrass lawns can use quinclorac containing herbicides, those with centipedegrass can use sethoxadim containing herbicides, but those with St. Augustine grass  don’t have any other options, Fluazifop containing herbicides can be used in beds, but read the label to make sure the plants in the beds can withstand the herbicide. This weed is one that is managed, since it is almost impossible to get rid of all of it.
Warm season plants put in the soil when temperatures are too low grow very little. A sunny day in the sixties makes everyone want to get into the garden and plant. Do that, but plant cool season things until the soil warms into the mid sixties. Soil thermometers are available to determine exact temperatures, but the human hand may be good enough. Press your palm firmly into the soil for two minutes. If it feels cold after that time, it is probably too cold for warm season plants. Garden centers are full of cabbage family transplants as well as tomatoes. If our mouth waters for a fresh tomato and you can’t wait, try growing a few plants in containers. You can bring them into the garage when the next freeze happens.
Winter cover crops should be growing rapidly now. Be sure to incorporate them at least three weeks before  planting the vegetable crops. this allows decomposition to happen and nutrients to be available to the new crop.
Lawn Scalping Prior to Spring Transition
Lawn scalping is a common practice of cutting the lawn at a much lower height than what is generally considered the optimum height for that turf species. There are some advantages and disadvantages to mowing warm season turf species lawns below the optimum growing height (scalping) prior to spring green-up.  A close mowing now while still in winter dormancy to remove the dead winter canopy may allow quicker soil warming to hasten the spring transition. It will also eliminate many winter annual winter weeds or at least prevent them from producing a seed supply for next fall. Collecting the clippings will reduce much of the lawn litter that could cause an excess thatch layer.  If there are poor drainage areas that need leveling scalping in early spring will help in identifying those low, poorly drained areas and make it easier to spread soil where it is needed.  A disadvantage is that by opening the turf canopy when summer annual weeds are germinating will invite a greater weed problem if a pre-emergence herbicide is not applied.
  With this said however, scalping is not needed and is simply a waste of time for most lawns if they have been maintained properly throughout the growing season.  Scalping should not be a recommended practice once the turf has completed the spring transition.  A normal mowing regime of cutting off no more than one-third the total leaf area at a single mowing should be followed throughout the growing season once spring transition has occurred.

Horticulture Tips
Lelia Kelly, David Nagel, Wayne Wells

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