Where have all the flowers gone? by Bill Hayes 4-14-12

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The title might sound like an old Kingston Trio song but what has happened to our color? Right now, Aiken is an expanse of green. We have green trees, shrubs, grass and a few frogs but very little color. This spring was the warmest in history for Aiken and it may set the all-time record for years to come. No one can ever remember dogwoods and Bradford pear trees in full bloom at the same time. Throw in jonquils, azaleas, camellias, forsythia, loropetalum and anything else that blooms in spring and they all bloomed in March! How many times can you remember absolutely no color at Augusta National for The Masters?

The National Weather Service announced that 15272 heat records were broken for the entire United States. Temperatures for the lower forty eight states were 8.6 degrees warmer than the March average. In Aiken, we were even warmer than the National average. Our March temperatures averaged 69.2 in 2008, 67.4 in 2009, a chilly 64.5 in 2010, 68.4 in 2011 and a whopping 77.16 in 2012! That’s a full 10 degrees over the average of the previous four years. It’s no wonder that everything was in bloom. To complicate the process, we have had very little precipitation. If we continue to have record warm temperatures and a shortage of moisture, we are going to have to lean a little heavier on our irrigation systems. With rising water rates, we are going to have to cut back a little on groceries if we want our lawns and gardens to look good. For those of us with an extra notch on our belts, that may be a good way to take off a little weight.

As I write this column, the temperatures have dropped to normal April averages. When asked, we always remind gardeners to hold off on planting annuals until the last week in April. This year the weather was too warm to hold them back. Mother Nature does not like to be dismissed. On April 11th and 12th, the nighttime temperatures dropped into the mid 30’s and may have taken a toll on those who live in Cedar Creek and Windsor where the elevations are a little lower. We should be safe now so plant to your heart’s content!

While we are on the subject of temperatures, let’s look at our soil. We normally recommend that lawns should not be fertilized until around the first of May. There is nothing magical about that date but on average, the soil is at a temperature that will allow the nitrogen to be used most effectively. Studies have shown that soil temperatures less than 70 degrees, are too low for the fertilizer to be used effectively. As the soil temperatures rise, the nitrogen is used in combination with moisture. This year, fertilizing in early April would have given the lawns an early start since the soil temperatures often reached into the 80’s. Next year we will probably be back to our regular May recommendation.

We have been receiving many calls at the Clemson extension center about very tiny insects around entrances to homes. The samples taken to the office have been identified as Kudzu bugs and spider mites. The kudzu bug is about the size of a lady bug and lives on Kudzu vines and soy beans. They do not bother most plants like azaleas, camellias or other similar shrubs. Be careful if you are going to swat one. They really smell awful when squashed! Applying a pesticide is a hit and miss affair since there are so leave them alone and they will eventually go toward a food supply. Red spider mites are almost invisible to the naked eye. You will probably see their damage before you see them. Place a white sheet of notebook paper under your plant and shake the plant vigorously. Any tiny insects will show up on the sheet for identification. Red spider mites may not always be red. Their color changes as they advance through their life cycle. They are normally red in the spring. A simple control is to use a strong water spray and blast your plant. That will disturb them but only for a short term. Most effective miticides are only available to licensed professionals. Regular insecticides are not effective and will kill the good, predatory insects. If you must use a chemical, be sure to read the label carefully and be sure that it says that it is a miticide. It will probably take a second or third application to be effective.

For those of you that enjoy valuable information at a reasonable price, you should be attending the Aiken Master Gardener’s free “Lunchbox Lectures.” These lectures are held at Trinity UMC, 2724 Whiskey Rd., Aiken, SC every third Monday of the month at noon. We provide the information and you bring your own lunch.

Mark your calendars for May 5, 2010. The Aiken Master Gardeners Spring Education Day will take place from 8 a.m. to noon at the Aiken County Farmers Market. This free event will feature a Master Gardener plant sale, plant swap, seminars, exhibits and demonstrations, door prizes and a “free to a good home” table.  All this is in addition to the Farmers Market’s weekly vendors’ farm-fresh crops of fruits, vegetables, dairy products and much more.

Speakers are scheduled at 8:30 am “Roses, Beautiful Roses” with Jane Burkhalter, Rose Society President; at 9:00 am “Organic Gardening” with Pastor and Master Gardener Jim Bennett; at 9:30 am Jim Dickson of the Camellia Society will present “Air Layering Camellias; at 10:00 am is “Beekeeping 101” with Deborah Sasser from the Aiken Beekeepers; at 10:30 am is Clemson Extension Home Horticulture Agent Vicky Bertagnolli on “Controlling Fire Ants”; at 11:00 am is “Bluebirds of South Carolina” with Jim Burke, Bluebird Society President; and the last speaker at 11:30 am is Master Gardener Bill Hayes “Controlling Moles.”

There are also continuous Master Gardener demonstrations of gardening techniques and exhibits on gardening topics including discouraging deer, propagation from stem cuttings, turfgrasses and summer weeds, composting, year-round container gardening, and all about seeds, plus exhibits from other local nature organizations including the CSRA Bluebird Society, the Aiken Camellia Society, the Aiken Beekeepers, the Rose Society and the Orchid Society.  In addition to plants offered by vendors at the Farmers Market, there will also be plants for sale, for swap and free to a good home from Aiken Master Gardeners. I hope to see you there!