Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Potted Christmas trees keep giving for generations

Families have fun choosing and decorating their Christmas trees. The twinkling lights, the bright colored ornaments, the handcrafted decorations the kids make and the yummy candy canes along with that fresh pine smell add a special glow to the holidays. But after the holidays, cleaning up those messy shed needles or dragging that tree out of the house isn’t as glorious.
There’s the age-old question: What do I do with the tree now?

Many retailers that sell fresh-cut Christmas trees also offer shredding service after the holidays. While shredded trees make excellent mulch for the landscape, one University of Georgia expert suggests consumers think about what to do after the holidays before they buy the tree.

“If you don’t need a huge tree, and a 6- to 7-foot tree will work, you can go to any garden center and look at the live conifers available,” said Matthew Chappell, a UGA Cooperative Extension horticulturist. “There are so many choices. Cupressus, Chamaecyparis, Thuja, Leyland Cypress, Cedrus and Juniperus all will work as Christmas trees.”

Using a live potted tree doesn’t require more work than a cut tree, just a little different care. There are two big points to remember, he said.

“The tree should only be inside for a week to 10 days,” he said. “Placing the tree inside will shock the tree because when you move a tree inside, you are significantly altering the growing environment to lower light, drier and warmer conditions, especially if you put the tree near a woodstove or fireplace. This means the tree should be removed the day after Christmas.”

Also, remember to water. “The tree will need to be watered every 1-2 days until water drains through the bottom of the pot,” he said.

Live trees can be economical, too. In the Atlanta area, a 6- to 7-foot live tree in a 15-gallon container at a local retail outlet sells for between $100 and $140. A 15-gallon 6-foot Leyland Cypress goes for between $90 and $100 at local nurseries and tree growers. Both are comparably priced to fresh-cut trees. Call around to check prices in your area.

Considering the benefits of trees in the landscape to provide shade, screening or improved air quality, a live tree is one holiday decoration that can last a lifetime. “This could be a great new ‘plant a tree for the environment this Christmas’ movement,” Chappell said.

For information on planting, pruning and caring for a landscape tree, read the UGA Extension publication “Trees for the Landscape: Selection and Culture” online at http://pubs.caes.uga.edu/caespubs/pubs/PDF/B875.pdf or call the UGA Extension office in your county at 1-800-ASK-UGA1.

By Faith Peppers
University of Georgia

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Chinese develop taste for U.S. pecans

As the holiday season approaches, many American home bakers will be looking for Georgia pecans to add to pies, casseroles or cookies. They won’t be the only ones. Chinese consumers will be buying, too.

“It varies, but last year Georgia growers sold close to 50 percent of their pecan crop to China,” said Greg Fonsah, an economist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “The Chinese high demand for pecans has not significantly impacted prices nationally. But it is likely that individual growers and perhaps some states may take advantage of the Chinese demand and improve their profit margins.”

Wholesale prices for pecans vary from market to market and from cultivar to cultivar. In Los Angeles, for example, pecans from Alabama, Georgia and Texas are going for between $1.15 and $1.20 per pound, Fonsah said. In New York, Georgia pecans are being sold wholesale for a $2.10 per pound.

Setting prices

Most of Georgia’s crop comes from improved varieties, which bring higher prices than native and seedling nuts. Fonsah says several factors tie into the price of pecans.

“For instance, a cultivar like Desirable might command better prices than Sumner in one area and vice versa,” he said. “Also, some states might get better prices than others depending on quality, overall cosmetic appearance, negotiation skills of the grower and targeted markets.”

In 2008, Florida growers got $1.84 per pound for their nuts, compared to the $1.47 per pound Georgia growers received, he said. But in 2007, Georgia growers got $1.06 per pound and Florida nuts sold for 96 cents per pound on average.

Georgia battles with Texas over the No. 1 spot in pecan production. “Georgia may still be No. 1, but when we get hit with low production due to disease and drought or in ‘off’ years, Texas is No. 1,” he said. “This is an ‘on’ year for pecans, though.”

Economics of nuts

Georgia growers will harvest an estimated 90 million pounds of pecans this year, or 29 percent more than last. Nationally, production is up 59 percent, Fonsah said.
“This will definitely affect overall prices,” he said. “The price of nuts is lower during a good production year and higher during a bad production year. Volume has a direct impact on prices, and since pecans have an alternate-bearing pattern, this helps fluctuate the prices.”

That’s simple supply and demand economics.

Buyers who sell to the gift-box market get the highest prices for pecans and other nuts, said CAES agricultural economist Wojciech Florkowski.

“These are always the best quality nuts in terms of kernel size and color,” he said.

He says the current economic situation in the U.S. will also affect pecan sales this holiday season.

“The demand for pecans and nuts in general will be affected by household incomes,” Florkowski said. “Incomes have declined as compared to previous years, but older consumers are continuing to buy nuts with their health benefits in mind.”

By Sharon Dowdy
University of Georgia

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Plants liven up the holidays

Flowers are University of Georgia horticulturist Paul Thomas’s specialty. And, for holiday plant suggestions, they’re his top pick. But when asked, “What was the best plant you’ve ever gotten for Christmas?” his answer is: “A ming aralia that I got from my mother-in-law. It’s strictly a foliage plant, and it looks like a bonsai. It’s really awesome.”

Ming aralias, specifically polyscias fruticosa ‘elegans’, have carrot-like foliage and woody stems as they get older. A ming aralia was “the plant for kings and queens to have,” he said. “It grows slowly and beautifully.”

While they are beautiful and do make good gifts, they’re also a challenge, he said. The biggest danger is overwatering and over-fertilizing. They only need a tiny bit of diluted fertilizer every few months.

When it comes to buying gift plants, the best place to purchase them is at a local florist’s shop. “They have the best quality, and they’re grown by specialists for the highest quality,” he said.

Thomas likes to give flowering plants as gifts. A deep basket filled with a few pots of colored calla lilies or a basket with a cluster of cyclamen topped with white or silver grass “makes a stunning gift,” he said.

For gift giving, Thomas suggests:

• Calceolaria. The flowers look like a pocketbook, which gives it its common name of ‘pocketbook plant.’ “It’s just cool and unusual,” he said. Flower colors range from yellow to bright red with polka dots. The flowers are delicate, so handle it carefully.

The plants must be kept moist but not flooded with water. They like sunny windowsills that are cool but not freezing. There, they’ll last about a month. They can’t be saved and planted outside in Georgia, because they will die of plant diseases.

• Cinerarias. These plants look like daisies, but their colors are more intense, or, as Thomas puts it, they have “five times the impact” of daisy flowers. The blossom colors range from purple to yellow.

Like calceolaria, they need sunlight and water. “Don’t let either of these plants dry out ever,” he said. “I put them on my coffee table during the day and on the windowsill at night.” They will live about six weeks.

• Cyclamen. These plants bloom white, pink or bright red. They can be found in grocery stores, aren’t expensive and are a great substitute for poinsettias if someone is allergic to latex, which is found in poinsettia plants. Kept cool and moist, cyclamen blooms will last three to four months. “Buy five or six plants and put them in a big basket with white or silver grass, like the kind they sell at Easter,” Thomas said. “It makes a really nice Christmas gift.”

They’re also a good gift plant if the holiday you celebrate isn’t Christmas. Because they are native in Israel, they are a good choice as a Hanukkah plant, he said.

• Miniature roses. These tiny blooming beauties can do double duty as both a holiday plant and a garden attraction come spring. They prefer cool spots inside until all chance of frost has passed. Then plant them near the foundation or in another protected area of the yard.

• Calla lilies. “Normally, people would buy bouquets of calla lilies, but sometimes florists will sell calla lily bulbs in pots,” Thomas said. When growing calla lilies, their bulbs should be kept moist and their flowers dry. The stems also need to be staked so they won’t fall over and break.

“Three to four pots in a deep basket are a really nice gift,” he said. “They’ll last a long time.”

Before visiting a local florist, give them a call, Thomas said, especially if you have one type of plant you might want to give to several different people. “Get your orders in now to get the best quality for the Christmas season,” he said.

By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Bring potted plants indoors

When wintry weather rolls in, landscape plants must fend off cold temperatures and frost on their own. But some potted plants are lucky enough to get a free pass indoors.

Without proper care, though, these new houseplants can have difficulty living through the winter indoors. There are some things you can do to make sure they survive just fine.

Temperature level essential

First, consider the temperature. Many container plants live on outdoor porches during the summer and early fall months. As temperatures dip to 50 degrees or less, plant owners begin to move plants indoors.

The best way to protect outdoor potted plants is to first bring them into a garage or basement that is a little warmer than the outdoors, but not as toasty as inside the house. If the plants are moved immediately from 50 degrees to 75 degrees, some may become stressed and suffer.
Plants should be acclimated slowly by a gradual increase in temperature. After a week or two, bring the plants into the warm house.

Most house plants grow best in daytime temperatures between 65 degrees and 75 degrees and nighttime temperatures between 60 degrees and 65 degrees. To further protect them, keep houseplants away from cold, drafty windows or hot radiators, stoves or air vents. Also keep houseplant foliage from touching cold windows. This can burn the leaves.

High humidity best

Humidity is important. Most houseplants prefer a humidity level of 40 percent to 50 percent. The relative humidity in most homes is closer to 15 percent – a level much too low for most houseplants.

Raise humidity levels by using a humidifier or grouping plants together. Placing houseplants on saucers filled with gravel or small pebbles and water will also increase humidity. The bottoms of the pots should always be above the water level.

Don’t mist houseplants in an effort to raise the relative humidity. Misting would have to be done several times throughout the day to have any real affect.

Water, but not too often

In general, houseplants don’t require as much water during the winter months. That doesn’t mean they can be completely ignored. The type of houseplant and soil will determine the water needs.

Ferns prefer evenly moist soil and fairly frequent watering. Cacti and succulents should only be watered when the potting soil becomes completely dry. Most houseplants fall somewhere between these extremes and should be watered when the soil is barely moist or almost dry to the touch.

When watering, apply a thorough amount. Water the plant until water drains out of the bottom of the pot.

Be sure that plants have good drainage. Never allow plants to sit in excess water unless the pot is placed on gravel to raise humidity.

Clean but don't fertilize

Drastically reduce or eliminate fertilizer during the winter months since most plants grow very little. Fertilize again in late March or April as growing conditions improve and the plants begin to flush out.

It’s important to keep houseplants clean while they rest through the winter. Grease and dust can accumulate on leaves and slow down the normal transpiration. Cleaning houseplants also improves their appearance, stimulates growth and can help control insects and mites.

Large, firm-leafed plants can be cleaned with a soft sponge or cloth dipped in a mild solution of dishwashing soap and lukewarm water. Leaves can also be cleaned by placing the plants in the shower under lukewarm water.

By Bob Westerfield
University of Georgia

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Leaf mulching and fertilizer: A back-saving, soil-enriching way to deal with fallen leaves

(ARA) – As Mother Nature adorns the trees in your yard with riotous reds, vibrant yellows and exotic oranges, you can easily get swept up in the romance of the season – until those leaves turn brown, drop from the branches and litter your lawn. Then you start to think of the hours of backbreaking raking work ahead of you.

This autumn, why not try working with Mother Nature by mulching those leaves instead of raking, bagging and condemning them to a landfill?

Leaf mulching is a time-saving, environmentally friendly way to deal with fallen leaves. Plus, if you live in a community that has cut back on collection services due to the economy, mulching can solve your dilemma of what to do with the leaves littering your lawn.

“It doesn’t make sense to rake leaves and bag them, just to have them end up decomposing in a landfill,” says Dr. Phil Dwyer, senior scientist at The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company. “Leaf mulching recycles a natural resource and enriches the soil of your lawn for free.”

In fact, turf benefits by receiving more nutrients when you mulch fall leaves back into the lawn instead of raking them, according to a study by Michigan State University turfgrass researcher Thom Nikolai and ScottsMiracle-Gro scientists. Recycling fallen leaves saves time and money, adds nutrients to the soil, speeds spring greening and reduces weeds.

Here’s how to recycle this fall’s crop of fallen leaves:

* Remove the grass catcher from your lawn mower. Mow over the leaves on your lawn. Repeat until they are reduced to dime-sized pieces.

* Mow until you see about half an inch of grass through the mulched leaf layer.

Any kind of rotary-action mower will do the job, and all kinds of leaves can be mulched. Throughout the season, you can chop up to 18 inches total of leaf clutter with several passes of the mower. Having a somewhat thick layer of mulched leaves is okay as long as you can still see the green grass blades poking through. As leaf bits settle into the ground, microbes and worms get to work recycling them.

Once you’ve enriched your soil with leaf mulching, don’t forget that fall is the best time to feed and seed your lawn. A few simple steps can help ensure that your lawn will be strong next season and beyond:

* After mulching, feed your lawn with Scotts Turf Builder WinterGuard fall lawn fertilizer to help build strong, deep roots for a better foundation and a more robust lawn next year. The nitrogen in the fertilizer will also help the mulched leaves decompose faster. Be sure to sweep excess fertilizer off hard surfaces like driveways and sidewalks.

* After feeding, spread seed where needed. To reseed your bare spots, dig up bare areas, mix in compost, sow your seeds and cover with more compost. If the weather is dry, keep the seeded soil moist until new grass begins to grow. Seeding autumn bare spots will thicken the lawn and make it more resistant to future bare spots.

To learn more about leaf mulching and autumn lawn care, visit www.scotts.com.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Today's Landfills: Safe, Smart, Green

(NAPSI)-Considering Americans generate more than 250 million tons of trash every year-and most of it ends up in landfills-the good news is that landfills are safer, smarter and greener than ever, thanks to many advanced technological innovations.

Modern landfills are high-tech, carefully monitored containment systems that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, control water and air emissions, and minimize nuisances such as odor. Strict federal regulations do not allow landfills in floodplains, wetlands or along fault lines. Special liners and collection systems protect groundwater.

Generating Energy and Jobs

Even better news is that landfill gases, the source of most odors, are controlled through gas collection and conversion into energy. Methane captured from modern landfills often is used as a form of green, renewable energy. Landfill-gas-to-energy projects can help ease our dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil. In fact, many of today's landfills have become renewable energy plants. In the last year, landfill-gas-to-energy projects delivered enough gas and electricity to power some 1.6 million American homes. These facilities also generate "green collar" jobs.

"Today, solid-waste companies build new landfills and expand existing landfills in ways that protect human health and the environment more than ever before," said Bruce J. Parker, president and CEO of the National Solid Wastes Management Association.

For the Future

Looking ahead, today's landfills provide continued environmental benefits even after they are closed. Engineers and landscape designers transform these landfills into parks, golf courses, wildlife refuges and other spaces that can be enjoyed by the whole community.

Learn More

Learn more at www.environmentalistseveryday.org and (800) 424-2869.

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