Step-by-step instructions for performing an MSU Extension soil test

MSU Extension:

Taking a soil test to determine nutrient levels in the soil for a garden area or lawn is a smart thing to do. Testing the soil can save you money on fertilizer costs because you know what is already supplied by the soil. You add only the nutrients needed for optimum plant growth and excess fertilizer doesn’t end up in groundwater, lakes or streams. Soil testing can be done any time the soil is not frozen.

For established plantings, you are monitoring changes in nutrients, pH and organic matter over multiple years. Organic matter content and pH impact nutrient availability in the soil. You will want to re-test the soil every three to five years or after major changes are made, such as adding lime to raise the pH or adding sulfur to lower the pH.

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Steps for healthy blooming hydrangeas

How can I get ‘Nikko Blue’ hydrangeas that
have not flowered in years to bloom?

Hydrangeas are colorful flowering shrubs that aren’t bothered by pests or diseases, and can bloom for weeks at a time. The reason the flowers go on for so long is that the showy parts aren’t flower petals at all. They are colorful sepals that are sterile, but showy so that they attract pollinating insects. The fertile flowers, usually found in the center of the cluster, are quite small and inconspicuous. The sepals can’t be pollinated, which means they don’t go to seed, and that’s what prolongs the “flower” show.

Hydrangeas thrive in part-shade and prefer a moist, woodsy soil enriched with peat moss and leaf mold. For best success, water them well throughout the growing season.

Two words to remember when it comes to hydrangeas that refuse to flower is “too much.” Although hydrangeas grow well in some shade, too much shade can result in gorgeous leaves and no flowers. Another problem could be too much fertilizer, specifically high nitrogen fertilizer. This again will give beautiful leaves but few, if any, blooms. Use a balanced fertilizer such as 16-16-16 at the time they start to bloom. Too much water or too much dryness can also result in lack of flowers.

Most big leaf hydrangeas (H. macrophylla, also called “mopheads”) bloom on the previous season’s growth (old wood) and are reliably hardy to hardiness zone 6. In Michigan it is advisable to protect mophead hydrangeas to ensure bloom. The old wood of the hydrangea must survive in order to get blooms the following summer. ‘Nikko Blue’ is a mophead type that for many years was one of the few relatively hardy big-leafed types available. However, many gardeners protect it in early winter by stuffing fallen tree leaves around the shrub and covering it with an upturned bushel basket or burlap.

The choice of location is very important: place them close to the house, on the north or east side. The south or west side would expose them to afternoon sun, which is too hot in the summer and increases the chance of bud damage in the winter. In addition, unseasonably low temperatures after a mild winter also cause a lack of blooming on big leaf hydrangeas. If the plant is actively growing and hit by a late spring or early winter frost, the buds freeze and the hydrangea won’t bloom.

Another common reason why macrophylla hydrangeas don’t bloom is improper pruning. Again, most hydrangeas bloom on old growth (last year’s wood). If you prune too much old wood or you cut that wood too late, you won’t get blooms. These varieties set their buds after bloom in late summer, so spring pruning would remove that year’s flowers. The proper time to prune the flowering stems is soon after bloom, in late summer, back to a healthy pair of buds or shoots. The only pruning necessary in the spring is removing dead wood as new growth emerges.

Ketchup ‘n’ Fries grafted plant coming

ketchup-n-fries-grafted-plantThe Salt at NPR :

Love growing potatoes and tomatoes? This spring, gardeners in the U.S. (and Europe) will be able to get both tuber and fruit from a single grafted plant.

It even has a catchy name: Ketchup ‘n’ Fries.

“It’s like a science project,” says Alice Doyle of SuperNaturals Grafted Vegetables, the company that’s licensing the variety for U.S. markets from the U.K. company that developed it. “It’s something that is really bizarre, but it’s going to be fun [for gardeners] to measure and see how it grows.”

This isn’t a genetically modified organism but a plant of two different nightshades: the top of a cherry tomato grafted onto a white potato.

“Tomatoes and potatoes are in the same family, and that makes it feasible,” says John Bagnasco, also of SuperNaturals.

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Genetically modified apple variety doesn’t brown, awaits USDA approval


If you (or your children) turn up your nose at brown apple slices, would you prefer fresh-looking genetically modified apples?

Neal Carter, president of Okanagan Specialty Fruits, in British Columbia, Canada, certainly hopes so. His company has created the new, non-browning, “Arctic” genetically modified apple variety, and he’s hoping for big orders from despairing parents and food service companies alike. Food service companies, he says, would no longer have to treat their sliced apples with antioxidant chemicals like calcium ascorbate to keep them looking fresh.

The cost savings “can be huge,” he says. “Right now, to make fresh-cut apple slices and put them in the bag, 35 or 40 percent of the cost is the antioxident treatment. So you could make a fresh-cut apple slice 30 percent cheaper.”

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Gardening seminar coming to Shelby Township

The Outdoor Living Extravaganza, presented by Proven Winners, is coming to Cherry Creek Golf Club in Shelby Township on Saturday, March 21, 8:30am – 4pm.

This educational gardening seminar will inspire you with new plants, design ideas and more along with an opportunity to purchase plants and other gardening goods. All participants will receive a complimentary gift bag and plant along with a host of ideas to put to use right away in your garden.

Speakers will include P. Allen Smith, Award Winning Garden Designer, Author and TV Host; Kerry Mendez, Garden Expert and Author; and John Gaydos, Director of Product Development and Promotion for Proven Winners.

For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.