The recent warm and dry days we’ve experienced have brought a flood of soil samples to the office. This is a good thing! Soil testing is the best way to obtain a benchmark for fertilization of a lawn or garden. Sample test results can run the gamut. In vegetable gardens, it is very easy to give a garden too much love and push the pH, phosphorus and potassium to the excessive side by applying too much lime and fertilizer. Other areas that have not been in production may be very low in nutrients and have a very low pH. Ideally, for most crops, the soil pH should be between 6.2 and 6.8. In this range the nutrients plants need are most available for good growth. Above and below this range, the important nutrients are less available due to soil chemical properties. For blueberries and some of our native trees and shrubs a lower pH is preferred.

The Lyon County Extension Office provides five free samples per year to homeowners in Lyon County. Generally, samples are pulled from 10-20 spots in the area being tested and these are pooled in a clean bucket. A cup of the sample is brought into the office and we will submit it to the University of Kentucky Research and Education Center soil testing lab for you. We have soil probes available to loan out. A deposit of ten dollars is required and is returned when the probe is brought back. Sampling depth is 3-4 inches for lawns and the tillage depth for gardens (may be 6-8 inches if tilled deeply).

Other garden chores are to clean up remaining dead branches and debris from the previous season. The arctic freeze will likely have taken some marginal plants back to the ground. Scraping the bark back on a stem to see if there is green tissue is one way to test for damage. Or, if in doubt, gardeners can wait and see where the new growth starts and then remove any dead branches.

Established fruit trees should be pruned to allow for good air flow, remove crossing branches, diseased branches, sucker branches that are growing straight up, etc. New fruit trees should be cut back to the height that you want scaffold branches to develop from. There will be about six feet of picking height. The question as to where the initial limbs come off the tree is a trade-off between mowing around the tree and how much you enjoy climbing and being up in a ladder to pick fruit. The general recommendation is to top new trees to a 36-inch height. This may seem a drastic thing to do to a new tree but it is what is needed to develop a good structure that will last for the life of the tree. If the purchased tree is a bigger caliper with several scaffold branches already formed then you may want to top it higher up the trunk to develop additional layers of branches.

Establish a spray schedule early and have your supplies on hand. There are sample spray schedules for grapes, blueberries, apple, peach trees available at the Extension Office. At a minimum, a dormant oil spray is needed for apple and peach trees around the silver tip stage to smother overwintering aphids and scale insects. A copper spray will help to reduce fire blight on apple trees. Fungicide only sprays are used during bloom. Do not use insecticides at bloom, it is important to protect the pollinators! After bloom, a 7-10 day schedule using an insecticide and fungicide is needed. Chemicals needed may vary depending on the genetic disease resistance of individual varieties and the diseases a grower is facing. If a grower wants to reduce sprays it is always good to do some homework and select varieties with good disease resistance. On apple trees, bitter rot and fire blight are very common problems. On peach, brown rot can be an issue. Insects, birds, and wild animal feeding are issues with all fruits, especially as they are ripening. Liberty is one of the most disease resistant apple tree varieties.

Many people like to start their own seeds. To decide when to start seeds first select a goal for planting outside. Back up from that date by 4-6 weeks and start the seeds. Be sure not to bury seeds too deep, check the package recommendation. Moisten the soil well and cover the tray with the plastic dome. Most seeds pop out of the soil much faster when there is a seed heat mat under the tray. Tomato seeds can be up and going in as little as three days. As soon as seeds are up, they need exposure to strong light to avoid ‘stretching’ too much. It is good to provide 14-16 hours of light. I prefer to use a timer to automate this. Strong LED or fluorescent lighting both work well. It is good to mix warm and cool white light bulbs to get a wider spectrum of light. Plants generally like a warmer temperature in the daytime, (70-75 degrees) if possible, and a cooler temperature at night, (65 degrees).

Additional information on starting seeds and when to plant outdoors is available in ID-128 Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky. There is also have a very good series of publications for many crops that help to identify common insect and disease problems.

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