By Brent Gray
Spring has arrived and many of us will soon be back to our weekly task of maintaining our lawns. Proper fertilization, mowing, and watering all are key factors in keeping our lawns healthy and beautiful. However, on many of our heavier soils regardless of how well we maintain the above mentioned factors our lawns just do not perform as we wish due to one serious event that often occurs. That event is soil compaction. Compaction is a physical process that slowly reduces the pore space between soil particles thus making it extremely difficult for oxygen, water, and nutrients to move into the soil where turf roots can utilize them. Compaction also prevents the escape of carbon dioxide from the soil. As compaction increases roots become shallow, the turf canopy begins to thin and eventually the compacted soil will not be able to support a lawn at all.
Since compaction is a physical process we can reduce it by performing a physical process called “aerification”. This process is simply described as making small openings into the soil at a depth of 2-10 inches depending on the equipment used. For most practical purposes most lawn “aerifiers” a homeowner will purchase or rent from a lawn equipment dealer will have several hollow tubes or tines that make 1/2-inch openings into the soil to a depth of 2-3 inches. These openings will allow for oxygen, water and nutrients to move easily into the soil and as the roots push the soil particles around the compaction is relieved. The frequency at which a lawn will need to be aerified will depend mainly on the amount of traffic the lawn receives as traffic is the culprit for compaction whether it is foot traffic from recreational play on the lawn, pets, or mowing equipment. Wise traffic management can help reduce the frequency of compaction. Avoid heavy play or equipment use when the soil is wet. With riding mowers avoid the wheels always traveling in the same paths every time you mow.
Shrubs for the Landscape
Nurseries and garden centers are chock full of nice selections of ornamental shrubs right now. How about selecting a shrub for the landscape, not just because it is attractive, but because it has edible fruit as well? Two for the price of one! Looks good and you can eat it too. Figs, pomegranates (Punica granatum ‘Wonderful’), pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana) are a few that come to mind. But my favorite shrub that has ornamental attributes and has great fruit is the blueberry. It has attractive rose-tinged new growth and creamy-white or pink colored booms in the spring, delicious deep blue fruit and glossy green foliage in the summer followed by brilliant red foliage in the fall. A plant for all seasons, as it is even attractive in the winter with its deep red or burgundy colored young stems.
Rabbiteye blueberries do great in all parts of Mississippi. They require an acid soil like azaleas and rhododendrons. Plant them in shrub borders, as hedge plants, as foundation plants or anywhere you can get to them easily for picking the delicious fruits. Purchase at least two different cultivars for cross pollination and better fruit set.
There are many reports of vegetables bolting coming in. The lead story recently from “The Packer,” newspaper for the produce industry, was the amount of bolting in Vidalia’s onion crop. Broccoli is heading while less than eight inches tall. Collards are flowering in April. This early reproductive phase is due to warm temperatures in February when temperatures approached eighty degrees twice and March, when temperatures were in the low eighties for several days. The plant responds to these temperatures by sending its energy into making flowers to reproduce before the temperatures get too high. Once the plant enters the reproductive phase, there is nothing a gardener can do except accept the minimal harvest and plant something else.
Kiwi fruit is now found in almost every grocery store. It did not se1l well under its old name of Chinese goose berry. Seed sellers are hoping for the same result as they rename ground cherry “Peruvian Goldenberry”. Companies have selected very sweet flavored types of ground cherry and are marketing them to gardeners. This plant is a relatively common weed in production fields, but these new cultivars have been selected for better color and flavor than the wild types. The yellow fruit are about the size of a cherry and form inside a husk.
Ground cherry’s cousin has some new varieties as well. Gigante and Grande Rio Verde are larger fruited tomatillo varieties. These are grown like tomatoes, but a large fruit will weigh eight ounces. They will continue to fruit in hot temperatures.
Horticulture Tips – Wayne Wells, Lelia Kelly, David Nagel