Thursday, July 28, 2011

Night in the Garden

Night in the garden is a mysterious thing to me, shrouded in darkness and cloaked by strange sounds.  I imagine mythical creatures, ghastly insects, and industrious gnomes doing things I don't understand that somehow are as important to the health of the garden as sun and rain.

Whether or not any of that is true, I can state with 100% certainty that the Spotted Ground Gobbler does indeed exist.  This slimy crawler was creeping around the yard last night when I let the dogs outside.  It wasn't even the biggest one, just the least camera-shy.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Propagating Figs

Back on March 28, I started to root approximately 100 fig cuttings in plastic 16 ounce cups filled with moist perlite. I used dormant cuttings ranging in size from 8"-12". I was moderately successful rooting Celeste figs in previous years, so this year I was excited to get access to a wide variety of figs including Blue Celeste, Panache, Alma, Hardy Chicago, Strawberry Verte, Violette de Bordeaux, Osbourne Prolific, and Italian Golden Honey. It's been just over 3 months since I started the cuttings, and to date I have successfully rooted many cuttings. I am now in the process of transitioning the rooted cuttings from perlite to compost in plastic nursery pots to grow in the shade until they are established. The following pictures show the process:

Assorted fig cuttings in perlite.  This picture was taken on March 28.  I kept them inside my unheated garden shed until the weather warmed, then I moved them outside onto a table beneath a shady tree where they stayed for a few months.  The rooting process really speeds up in warm/hot humid weather.  This makes the process easy and successful in southeastern Virginia.
Here is a rooted cutting of Hardy Chicago on July 7.  Notice it has lush foliage.  Here's where it gets tricky.  Foliage growth is not necessarily a sign that the fig has rooted.  Sometimes a cutting will grow leaves but not roots.  This is why potting in clear plastic cups is an advantage.  It's much easier to see if and when roots have grown.
Check out the root growth in the bottom of the plastic cup.  I decided to transition this cutting from perlite to  compost in a plastic pot because of the strong root growth AND new foliage.
Here's a photo of the rooted cutting after I removed it from the cup.  The roots are holding the perlite together.  
I put a few inches of compost in the bottom of a pot and place the rooted cutting into the pot.  The perlite usually crumbles apart but it's not a big deal.  I like to include all the perlite from the cup because I believe it helps to transition the cutting to the new potting media. I use the inside of an old wheel barrow as my potting area. 
I make sure the cutting is vertical and then I add compost to the pot until it is even with the rim. I never compress the compost around the new cutting because I believe it can damage the young roots. Compost is light and fluffy and the rooted cuttings seem to respond well to it.
Here is a final picture of the new Hardy Chicago fig.  It's been watered and labeled.  A good labeling system is very important because it's easy to get them all mixed up when you have dozens of cuttings and no labels.  I also do not add any fertilizer.  The compost provides sufficient nutrients for the remainder of the year. This cutting will now join the others in the shady canopy of a massive crepe myrtle.  Once the fig shows strong new growth, I'll move it into a sunnier location.  As long as I keep my cuttings watered, they'll grow 4-5 feet by the time October rolls around and temperatures cool down.
Propagating new fig trees from cuttings is a fairly easy process. The hardest part is waiting!  I encourage you to give it a try. Before you know it, you'll have a yard filled with fig trees.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Peaches, Ants, and Tanglefoot

I've been keeping a close eye on my Redhaven peach tree for the past few days because it's almost peach time. The ants know this too. They've been climbing the trunk and working their way into limbs and fruit. I noticed a gouge in one of the peaches and saw an ant crawl out of the hole. Then a few more crawled out. Apparently ants are camera-shy because I only caught one with the camera, but I promise there were many more.

Ant and damage to a Redhaven peach.
Being a territorial guy who is not known for sharing very well, I decided it was time to take action rather than lose my precious peaches to the ants. At the recommendation of a few wise people, I broke out the Tanglefoot rather than really nasty chemicals.

A tub of Tanglefoot (center), stretchy paper wrap (right), and insecticidal soap (left) to deal with my ant invasion.
Tanglefoot is a really sticky goo that you "paint" around the trunk of a tree. Ants hate the stuff and get stuck if they step in it, hence the name Tanglefoot. It's not recommended to paint the Tanglefoot directly on the trunk so I wrapped it very tightly with a stretchy paper with cotton beneath it to make sure that ants couldn't walk through a small opening. Then I took a small scoop and lathered it on the paper. Within seconds, the steady stream of ants that had previously used my tree trunk as a superhighway to peaches were in a traffic jam of chaos.

Tanglefoot wrap around the lower portion of the trunk of my Redhaven peach.   Notice the ants trapped above the Tanglefoot.  They aren't happy.  Actually, the least happy ant is the one who is trapped in the upper right portion of the goo.  
It proved very effective. Those going up the tree stopped and turned around. The others located above the Tanglefoot hiked all around the trunk looking for a way down. You're probably thinking, "What about the ants in the picture? They are above the Tanglefoot and still have access to the peaches." That is correct, but I used a few sprays of insecticidal soap to get rid of them.

We had LOTS of rain the day after I applied the Tanglefoot, but the goo stayed in place. I may need to reapply if we get more rain, but I found it very useful as non-toxic alternative to spraying loads of poison and chemicals over the entire tree to deal with the insects. Now i just need to keep an eye open for aerial invaders!

p.s. Happy Birthday to my recently-retired Dad.