Archives > October 2018

How to Grow a Great Pumpkin

Posted by Wallish on Oct 30 2018

One may think the timing on this blog is a little late, kind of like closing the gate after the cows have escaped but….since the spotlight is on pumpkins at this time of year, let’s talk about how to grow a great pumpkin and store this knowledge up for the spring. We may even do a reprise of this as the warmer weather draws nigh in the early months of the new year with suggestions for good pumpkin varieties.

Here are some things to consider when mulling over pumpkin cultivation:

General guidelines:

  • Pumpkins are very frost sensitive (as are squash, zucchini and cucumbers).
  • In our climate, we usually have to start them indoors because we average round 115 frost free days, so be sure to investigate pumpkin varieties that have a maturation time between 85 and 125 days.
  • Miniature and large pumpkins often share the same maturation times.
  • There is a difference between pie pumpkins and carving pumpkins, so look for those features as well.

Preferred locations look like:

  • Full sun – 8 hours of sunshine
  • Lots of room – pumpkin vines take a LOT of space
  • High quality, well draining soil – pumpkins hate to have their feet soggy

When to plant:

  • Again, because pumpkins are very frost sensitive, it’s a good idea to start them indoors in 4” pots at the beginning of May to give them a good start and then to transplant them out in the garden after the last threat of frost has passed – which is THE $64,000 question – our Grandpa John Wallish says June 9 is safe – we can probably get away with the 1st week of June.
  • Watch for night time temperatures & cover them if the temperature looks like it will be flirting around 5 C.
  • They don’t have to be to be planted in a mound of soil – a mound is only needed if there is poor drainage.

Growing Tips:

  • Water only when needed – otherwise leave it alone
  • Water in the morning so it dries during the day & it is not damp at night
  • Too much water = powdery mildews or rotting
  • Avoid water on the leaves because that as well can lead to powdery mildew
  • Decrease watering as they begin to turn orange, no more watering is needed 7-10 days before harvesting
  • Blossoms do need to be pollinated, bees usually take care of that but you can use a paint brush to pollinate
  • Beetles sometimes bug pumpkins, pick them off & drop them in a jar of vinegar or just squish them

How to tell your Pumpkin is ready:

  • Look for the a very bright orange color or whatever the end color should be, sometimes they are yellow or white but they all start off green.
  • The vine has begun to age – starts to look dry, stems begin to twist.
  • It has a hard outer shell.
  • Leave about 4-6” of stem so the pumpkin will dry well.

Take this and store in your memory banks for spring, home grown is always tastier and more fun.

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Why do Leaves Change Color?

Posted by Wallish on Oct 16 2018

Our landscape is bursting with color right now. It’s full of yellows, oranges, reds, purples, and browns of deciduous trees – just check out Instagram or Facebook and your eyes will feast on the beauty of the changing leaves caught by so many of us on our cameras. The river valley, especially, gets a lot of coverage at this time of year.

So why DO deciduous leaves turn color?

Let’s take a quick look at photosynthesis and the role of chlorophyll first as a background to this question. Leaves provide essential nutrients for trees via photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process by which sunlight energy is converted into food (sugar) energy. Chlorophyll is a green substance that is essential for photosynthesis to occur. When chlorophyll is active, it gives the dominant green color to leaves all summer and spring.

The factors that influence the color leaves turn are the following:

  • Day & Night Length
    • In response to a shortened amount of sunlight – the longer nights and shorter days of autumn signals chlorophyll to begin to breakdown and disappear from the leaves. At the same time, trees produce a protective seal at the point where the leaf meets the stem or branch. This seal reduces the amount of water and other substances available for photosynthesis causing shift in its focus from production to storage.
    • Cooler and longer nights increase the intensity of leaf colors.
  • Color Pigments
    • Yellow & orange pigments are actually a natural part of the leaves but chlorophll masks those colors
    • There are basically 3 color pigments for leaves:
      • Chlorophyll = is green in color, it gives the dominant green hue during the active growth phase.
      • Carotenoids = give the deeper yellows, oranges, browns – you don’t see these colors until autumn
      • Anthocyanins = give shades of red & purples and all the colors in between – these pigments are not present until the autumn, they are produced by chemical changes that happen as sugars get trapped & stimulate this production of these chemicals. The red color of maple leaves is caused from trapped glucose in the leaves

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The Big Chill: Frost Damage & Why it Doesn’t Affect Fall Blooming Perennials

Posted by Wallish on Oct 2 2018

As you walk through your garden after that first hard frost you see some plants with leaves hanging limp like wet laundry on a clothesline or like lettuce that had been sitting out of the fridge for way too long. Other plants look completely normal, unaffected by the escapades of Jack Frost the night before. As you survey this, have you ever wondered why this happens? Why are the dahlias flagging? And why are the sedums acting like nothing’s happened?

Let’s take a look at frost, freezing injury, and why this occurs –

What does frost damage look like?

  • It feels like we’re at risk here in our Edmonton area ANYTIME of the year….which is probably pretty close to true. Our climate here boasts an average of 110-115 frost free days. The risk of frost is pretty much gone by June 9 – but not guaranteed, and we can see frost toward the end of August on any given year.
  • Frost is funny – because air is always moving, ambient temperature is never completely homogeneous. One area of the garden could catch a patch of freezing air where another area is unscathed. One plant could get a nip of frost bite when the next plant is untouched.
  • Frost damage looks like darker patches on leaves, limp and wilty looking leaves, and sometimes leaves have light or white patches on them.
  • The amount of frost damage depends on the severity and length of time the sub-zero temperature lasts — a heavy frost (below -3C) for 1 hour could cause less damage than a light frost (down to -2C) for 6 hours.

What does frost do to plant structure?

  • When temperatures dip below freezing, ice forms on top of the leaves and within the leaves. Ice crystals that form inside the leaves are sharp and they damage cell walls. Once the cell wall has been breached by an ice shard, the contents leak out. The cell dies, the leaf loses it turgor and it hangs limp.
  • Cell injury like this is related to how quickly the cooling happened. If it was very fast, you will see more damage than if there is a slow winding down of temperatures over a longer period of time,

Why do some plants tolerate frost and others not?

  • Genetics play a large role here – tropical plants are meant for tropical climates and they are engineered for that life, just as plants that live in mid-North America versus the Arctic.
  • The plants that tolerate frost have a structures and abilities in place that make frost tolerance possible. As temperatures begin to cool over a period of time when autumn approaches, they begin to shift fluid out of their cell structures into extracellular tissues. This increases cellular solute concentration which in turn lowers the temperature at which the cells will freeze.
  • Cell wall polysaccharides are at a higher concentration and antifreeze proteins contribute to a elevate tolerance to low temperatures.
  • Bulky organs (aka thick leaves) are another way plants are protected from the cold. Plants like sedums and tulips have thick leaves. The thicker the leaf, the more insulated they are from frost.
  • Plants that tolerate dry conditions tend to have less fluid in their cellular structure and they handle sub zero dips better.

So that’s the abbreviated version of the frosting story and we no longer have to stay up at night wondering why our garden plants behave the way they do when autumn marches in.

As always, we invite you to call us at 780-467-3091 or to send us an email via our website and we would be happy to engage your gardening questions. Stay warm!

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