Garden Talk: June 3, 2013

From NGA Editors

Protecting Trees during Construction

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Whether you're building on a new site or adding on to or renovating your existing home, you undoubtedly recognize the value of the existing trees on your property and want to keep them healthy and growing strong. But it's not always easy to do with the necessity of construction equipment crisscrossing the site. And it's not just a question of keeping the trees safe from the obvious dangers of contact with trucks and bulldozers. A tree's root system, which can extend out from the base of the tree for quite a distance, is vulnerable to damage from the soil compaction that results from heavy equipment moving across the site.

Recently Alabama Cooperative Extension System forestry agents Jack Rowe and Beau Brodbeck, working with Dr. Francisco Arriaga of the USDA's National Soil Dynamics Lab, carried out a study to assess not only how construction-related soil compaction affects trees, but to come up with inexpensive ways of lessening or preventing this problem and the damage to tree roots it causes. Advance planning is critical because, notes Rowe, it doesn't take a lot of passes of heavy equipment to create problems -- even three passes can cause enough compaction to have a large negative impact on a tree.

Fencing off the critical root zone -- the area around the tree where roots are most vulnerable to damage from soil compaction -- is key. But where constraints exist that make such fencing off impossible, the foresters discovered some simple ways to lessen the impact of heavy machinery. They found, for example, that simply spreading mulch 8 inches deep and covering it with 3/4 inch plywood distributed the weight of the equipment driving over enough to greatly reduce the amount of soil compaction below.

To read more about their project, go to Community Foresters Gaining a Clearer Picture of Building Construction Effects on Trees. The findings from their research, along with lots of helpful information on protection techniques, are detailed in the Alabama Cooperative Extension publication A Guide to Preventing Soil Compaction During Construction, available as a free downloadable PDF at ACES.

Helping Veterans with Green Spaces

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Gardeners know the feeling of peace and well-being that working out in the garden brings. Now Keith Tidwell, a senior Extension associate in the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, is investigating the role that green spaces and exposure to the natural world can have in helping veterans heal from the trauma of war.

Tidwell calls his concept "greening in the red zone" and as principal investigator for a federal grant "Returning Warriors: A Study of the Social-Ecological Benefits of Coming Home to Nature," he is working with veteran's organizations and the Army base at Fort Drum, NY to promote greening practices such as tree planting, community gardening, habitat restoration, and time alone in nature to help ease the stress of soldiers returning from war.

According to Tidwell, nature's role in helping people recover from war, political upheaval, and natural disasters often gets overlooked by policymakers and planners. He cites the example of the many trees cut down or damaged after Hurricane Katrina in the haste to restore power. "That ended up being even more devastating for some people than the flooding," he noted. Tidwell hopes to encourage those involved in helping with recoveries of all sorts to recognize and honor the importance of the natural environment and people's relationship to it in the recovery process. And perhaps his work can serve as inspiration for gardeners across the country who are interested in giving back to our servicemen and women.

To read more about Tidwell's work, go to Cornell Chronicle.

White to Rose Geranium

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Who doesn't love geraniums! They are easy to grow and the epitome of cheerfulness. And while bright red blossoms are classic, there is lots more to explore in the geranium world.

One of the most exciting new offerings is this year's All-America Selections (AAS) Bedding Plant Award winner, Geranium 'Pinto Premium White to Rose'. And it is just that -- a geranium with a unique ombre-like pink and white coloration. Petals start out white, and then deepen to rose-pink as the flowers mature for a striking bicolor effect. It's another great addition to the 'Pinto Premium' series from Syngenta Flowers, Inc.

'Pinto Premium White to Rose' is covered with 5-inch flower heads all summer long on well-branched plants with deep green, zoned leaves. Like all geraniums, it does best with full sun, consistent soil moisture, and regular fertilization. Because new flowers are produced quickly and freely, deadheading is not necessary with these carefree plants.

AAS Winners offer gardeners reliable new varieties that have proven their superior garden performance in Trial Grounds across North America.

For more about Geranium 'Pinto Premium White to Rose', go to AAS.

Year of the Watermelon

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For all of you for whom summer just wouldn't be summer without a sweet crisp watermelon to sink your teeth into, you'll be glad to learn that the National Garden Bureau has declared 2013 as the Year of the Watermelon. Ranging in size from tiny icebox melons to behemoths weighing as much as 50 pounds, there is a watermelon to suit every taste. But more and more of them are seedless -- it's estimated that 50 percent of all commercially grown watermelons are now seedless. Will summer seed spitting contests become a thing of the past?

Watermelons are thought to have originated almost 5000 years ago in the Kalahari Desert region of Africa. Some other fun facts -- they were buried in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs to provide sustenance in the afterlife, were boiled by Confederate soldiers in the Civil War to make molasses, and are added to stir-fries in Chinese cuisine.

One of the best things about watermelons is that, not only are they delicious, they are packed with good nutrition as well. They're high in Vitamin C and the healthful antioxidants lycopene and beta-carotene, along with a host of other vitamins and minerals, and low in calories.

Watermelons are not difficult to grow, but they do need heat and most need a long growing season. Fortunately for northern gardeners, varieties have been bred that ripen quickly, such as 'Shiny' Boy' or 'Yellow Baby', which mature in just 70-75 days.

To learn more about watermelons, their history, nutritional benefits, and tips on growing and harvesting, go to National Garden Bureau.

 
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