This is a collection about horticulture.

Research Before You Retweet: Gardening in the Age of Social Media May 18, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Elizabeth Killinger @ 3:59 pm
Blossom end rot on tomato. Maintain consistent moisture, try mulching tomatoes first. Don't reach for the Epsom salts.

Blossom end rot on tomato. Maintain consistent moisture. Try mulching tomatoes instead of reaching for the Epsom salts.

Without a doubt the interest in gardening and landscaping has been on the rise for many years. In order to find information on how to garden in the past, you had to know who to ask or what book to look in. Today the places to find information are endless. Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and the internet all have gardening information that is easily shared among friends and followers alike. Sometimes these ideas are tried and true while others are more “too good to be true.” I might not be the first to say it, but you can’t believe everything you read on the internet.

Through my job with Nebraska Extension, I educate people using science-based information that comes from research. This ensures the information that I give out has been researched by numerous people and has been found to be consistent in a number of settings and conditions.

When searching online, it can be difficult to figure out the source of the information. Sometimes the information comes handed down or it comes from unreliable information observed by one or a handful of individuals. Other times the information comes from groups or individuals with an agenda for or against a certain thing. Whenever you see something online, be sure to do a little research before you add the practice to your own garden.

Land-grant universities are good sources of information. To make sure you get science-based gardening information, you can find university extension resources online. The easiest way to find university information while you are searching online is to add the command “” or “AND extension” to your search.

One of the most common sources for misinformation is with homemade pesticide alternatives. Be sure to research the safety and efficacy of these products before applying in the landscape or garden. Epsom salts, a common homemade pesticide ingredient, should be used with caution in the landscape. Epsom salts are magnesium sulfate. A soil test should be performed prior to applying to make sure the soil is deficient in magnesium. In slightly alkaline pH soils, like in most of Nebraska, magnesium is readily available. Another reason to avoid over using Epsom salts in the landscape is because it leaches easily from the soil and can act as a potential water contaminate.

Vinegar, the wonder substance. It can multitask so well in the house; it must be useful outdoors too. There are many homemade recipes that use vinegar as a cure-all for one thing or another in the landscape. Vinegar is an effective weed killer, but not the household type. Household white vinegar is about 5% acetic acid. Household vinegar will burn the top back on the weeds, but has a difficult time killing the roots on larger plants. The weed killing vinegar, or horticulture vinegar, is 20% acetic acid. It works much faster, but also has a tough time killing the roots on larger plants. Caution has to be used with the 20% acetic acid. Vinegar is also not very effective to prevent or cure disease problems; it can burn back good plants just like weeds. It is not a good fertilizer either. Acetic acid only contains hydrogen and oxygen, elements the plant can get from the air. The only thing vinegar is really good for in the landscape is killing very young weeds.

‘Research it before you apply it’ should be the new motto to follow. Check reputable resources to make sure what you are reading is safe and tested for that particular problem. A little research upfront can save you from applying a mixture that won’t fix your problem…and save your vinegar for making pickles.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, her blog at, HuskerHort on Facebook and Twitter, or visit the Nebraska Extension in Hall County website:


The War on Weeds April 19, 2015



Spring has officially sprung. The crabapples and flowering pears are in full bloom. Tulips and daffodils are starting their flower show. Henbit and dandelions are looking gorgeous. Are the last two not quite the kinds of spring flowers you want in your landscape? If so, there are some things you can do. The key to knowing what to do when depends on the weed, but it all comes down to proper identification of the enemy and its life cycle.

Winter annual weeds bloom in the spring, produce seed, and die all before the temperatures get hot. One of the more common winter annual weeds is henbit. Henbit has scalloped leaves, a square stem, and little purple flowers at the tip of the stem. These weed seeds germinated last September or October. Henbit plants sat dormant throughout the winter just waiting for the right time to jump into flower and seed production. Post emergence, broadleaf weed, herbicides won’t do much good. Spraying might make you feel better, but it can cause the plant to produce and drop more seeds. If the area isn’t too large, these weeds can be hand-pulled. Increasing the density and health of the lawn in the thin areas can help too. Improve the lawn either by overseeding or by changing cultural practices to promote grass growth. If you choose to use preemergence herbicides, aim to apply in early September to control winter annual weeds. For the best selection of preemergence herbicides, consider purchasing them now and storing until fall.

Summer annual weeds germinate in the spring, grow throughout the summer months, and produce seeds and die before winter. One of the most common summer annual weeds is crabgrass. Crabgrass is an annual grass that often fills into areas where the turfgrass is thin. Crabgrass preventers, or preemergence herbicides, will help to keep seeds from germinating. These products aren’t effective for plants that are already growing, so they should be applied before the plants come up. Crabgrass needs a minimum soil temperature of 50 to 55 degrees to begin germination. Preemergence herbicides applied just prior to germination provide the longest period of control. If applied too early, some products are out of the soil profile before all of the weed seeds germinate. Now is the perfect time to apply the preemergence herbicides. Apply half the highest rate on the bag’s label now. A second application, again half the highest rate on the label, can be applied in 6-8 weeks to give extended weed control. Remember that these products need to be watered into the soil profile within 24 hours for best results.

Perennial weeds come back year after year. The common offenders include white clover and ground ivy, sometimes called creeping Charlie. Ground Ivy looks very similar to henbit, but the control methods are very different. Ground ivy also has scalloped leaves, a square stem, and purplish flowers, but the flowers are in the leaf axil, between the leaf and the stem, in comparison to henbit that flowers at the end of the stem. The best time to apply post emergence herbicides for perennial weeds is after a light frost in the fall with a combination herbicide that contains multiple active ingredients. These products will also work well to control other weeds like clover or dandelions in the lawn.

Positive identification is key to selecting the proper control method. With a little homework upfront, you can ensure that it is the daffodils and tulips you see rather than the dandelions and henbit in the landscape.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, her blog at, HuskerHort on Facebook and Twitter, or visit the Nebraska Extension in Hall County website:


Preemergence Herbicides and Worms April 16, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Elizabeth Killinger @ 7:13 pm

You know what they say, April showers bring May flowers, weeds, and earthworms. The last two usually aren’t part of the rhyme, but this year we will make an exception. Find out what you can do to make sure the May flowers in your lawn aren’t unwanted weeds and how to keep earthworms under control.

The lawn we all wish we had...

The lawn we all wish we had…

Warmer than average temperature have bumped up the timing of many of our tasks on our to-do list. Soil temperatures are a few degrees warmer than normal. If you wanted to apply a preemergence herbicide to control crabgrass, you might want to put it down a bit sooner than normal. Crabgrass, the main target for early season preemergence herbicides, needs a minimum soil temperature of 50 to 55 degrees to germinate. Normally that soil temperature is reached the end of April or the beginning of May. This year, however, we have reached those optimum germinating temperatures a bit sooner than expected so be ready.

Split applications might be needed for a longer control window. Aim to put down half the highest recommended application rate on the label now and the other half in June for season long control of weeds. One application now probably won’t last throughout the entire growing season because of the earlier application window. Be sure to water in the product after application to keep it from degrading in the sun. The three most common active ingredients in preemergence herbicides are dithiopyr, pendimethalin, or prodiamine. When choosing a product to control crabgrass, look for one of those active ingredients. University of Nebraska-Lincoln research has shown that they are all equally effective in controlling crabgrass.

The good kind of worms

The good kind of worms

Just as you have been busy this spring, the earthworms have also been busy. The activity of earthworms often creates a rough and bumpy lawn surface that can be both annoying and dangerous. The small castings left on the soil surface by earthworms are only one factor that contributes to lawn bumpiness. Earthworms are valuable to the overall health of the lawn. Their activity improves the turf increasing air and water movement in the soil and they help decompose organic matter and alleviate compaction.

There are no pesticides labeled for the control of earthworms. Although some pesticides and fertilizers are known to have an impact on earthworms, none can be recommended as controls. Today’s pesticides have relatively little impact on earthworm populations, in part because of the registration process that examines adverse environmental effects such as mortality to beneficial, non-target organisms like earthworms.

Various lawn care practices can help reduce the problem of a bumpy lawn. Bumpiness in sparse, thin lawns will be less noticeable if a healthy thick turf is reestablished through reseeding with a species and variety suited to the site. Proper fertilization, mowing and irrigation of the site can also help. Mechanical means to reduce bumpiness will be necessary to eliminate existing roughness. Core aerifying, power raking and verticutting are all mechanical processes that will break down some of the bumps in the lawn. Roughness accumulates over several years and it should be gradually removed instead of all at once. Using a heavy roller can cause some longer term issues. Rolling may remove some roughness, it also damages the turf by compacting the soil. Compacted soil reduces turfgrass vigor and eventually leads to a thinner lawn.

Although rough, bumpy lawns and earthworms on the sidewalk are annoying, don’t let it dampen your spirits.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, her blog at, HuskerHort on Facebook and Twitter, or visit the Nebraska Extension in Hall County website:


Vegetable Gardening Workshop April 2, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Elizabeth Killinger @ 5:01 pm

Vegetable Gardening Workshop To Be Offered

Learn about vegetable gardening methods, rots & spots, and produce safety practices

Learn about vegetable gardening methods, rots & spots, and produce safety practices

Want to grow your own food in your own vegetable garden, but not quite sure where to start? Nebraska Extension Educators will be teaching evening workshops to help gardeners and homeowners learn the basics of vegetable gardening including: site selection, gardening methods including container gardening, common garden pests and diseases, landscaping with vegetables, produce safety practices, and much more.

Program will be held:

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

6:30-9:00 p.m.

Nebraska Extension in Hall County

Extension Meeting rooms located in College Park

3180 W. Hwy 34, Grand Island NE 68801

Registration deadline April 8, 2015

Thursday, April 23, 2015

6:30-9:00 p.m.

Nebraska Extension in Holt County

128 N 6th Street, O’Neill, NE 68763

Registration deadline April 16, 2015

Preregistration is requested to ensure enough educational material for workshop participants. There is a $5 charge per workshop participant due on the day of the program to help offset costs. Please reserve a place at one of these workshops by calling the Nebraska Extension Office in Hall County at (308) 385-5088 or by sending an e-mail message to Elizabeth Killinger, Extension Educator, at, at least one week prior to the program you select to attend.

Click here for more information on the Vegetable Gardening Workshop April 15, 2015 in Grand Island NE


My Seed Starting Project March 25, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Elizabeth Killinger @ 4:26 pm

Starting SeedsDon’t let the idea of starting your own transplants scare you off. Starting your own transplants can be a rewarding experience as long as you follow a few simple rules and have the proper equipment. The first step is deciding what you want to plant in your garden. Once the vegetables have been selected, figure out what needs to be started indoors and what can be direct seeded, planting the seeds directly in the garden soil. Beans, beets, cucumber, pumpkin, squash, melons, peas, lettuce and greens are ideal vegetables for direct seeding. Vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, eggplant, pepper, and tomato do best when placed outdoors as transplants rather than direct seeding.

1Next sort the vegetables into cool season and warm season crops. Cool season crops like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kohlrabi, can handle cooler spring temperatures, along with an occasional light frost, and can be planted in the garden earlier in the year compared to warm season crops. Eggplant, pepper, and tomato are warm season crops and shouldn’t be planted in the garden until after the threat of cold temperatures and frost has passed, usually around Mother’s Day.

Once you have your vegetables sorted into warm season and cool season crops, it’s time to break out the calendar. Cool season crops can be planted in the garden as early as April 1st and as late as May 10th. In order to have vegetable transplants ready to plant in the garden around April 1, they are going to require to be started indoors 6-8 weeks prior to that. Count backward from April 1, which means cool season transplants would need to be planted indoors around February 17th. Warm season crops will also take about 6-8 weeks to get to the proper size, but they shouldn’t be planted into the garden until around May 10. Again counting backward 6-8 weeks from May 10, the warm season crops should be started indoors around March 22nd. Keep in mind these are just guidelines. Technically warm season crops can be planted in the garden earlier, but you have to remember we live in Nebraska and there isn’t any guarantee for a ‘normal’ spring. If you want to roll the dice and plant in the garden earlier, plan accordingly with planting the transplants earlier, but be prepared for Nebraska’s weather.

There are a number of containers that are commercially available for starting plants indoors. From plastic trays, to plastic cell packs, to peat pots, or compressed peat pellets, the key is finding the one that works best for you and your budget. It might take a little experimenting, but there is an option out there for everyone. Once you have selected the container, the next decision is to select the proper soil or planting media. The media has to have good drainage and remain soft so the 2seedlings can sprout. Garden soil does not work well for starting seeds. It is often too heavy and doesn’t drain well enough for new little seeds and it can crust over, making it difficult for seedlings to sprout. A soil-less mix or potting media will work in most instances. Vermiculite is also a common seed starting media.

Now comes the fun part, the planting. After the container has been filled with media, add the seeds. If you are using cell packs, 1-3 seeds per cell will ensure at least one will sprout. If you are using a tray, make sure to leave room between seeds so you can easily pull out the seedlings to transplant into a larger container. Cover the seeds with a sprinkling of fine potting mix or vermiculite and water thoroughly with a fine sprinkle or mist. If the container comes with a plastic cover, place that on now. If your container doesn’t, you can use cling wrap to keep the humidity high for the seedlings, just make sure that the seedlings don’t stay too wet.

5Planting the seeds is the easy part, once they emerge is when the work begins. The care that the seedlings require depends on how they are planted. If you planted several seeds directly into the cell packs or larger pots, now is the time to thin the number of seedlings in each cell. It is best if you clip or cut the weaker seedlings out of the cell packs instead of pulling. By cutting the weakest seedlings off at ground level, you are ensuring that the root mass of the strongest seedling remains intact and undisturbed. If you planted into a seedling flat or planted seeds into one container, then the seedlings will need to be transplanted. Pick another larger container that you want to put the transplants into and fill with potting media, not garden soil. Select the healthiest looking seedlings and carefully remove them from the flat and place into the new container. Make sure that the newly planted seedling is well watered. Take extra care not to pinch the stem as this can damage the water movement vessels in the stem and cause seedling damage.

4One of the most important needs of seedlings is light. A sunny window or providing supplemental artificial light will help to ensure the plants grow quickly. Plants that are receiving enough light will remain compact and the leaves will be a nice dark green color. Plants that are a light green color or have a long internode or are stretching over toward the window are signaling that they need more light. If you are using artificial light, try to keep the light as close as one inch away from the plants. One inch might not seem far enough away, but the florescent lights don’t produce that much heat to damage the plants as long as they are not touching the light bulb. As the plants grow taller, keep moving the light farther away from the growing plants to make sure they aren’t touching the bulb.

How you water newly planted vegetable seedlings is also very important. There is a fine line between keeping the seedlings just moist enough, but not overly wet. Until the seeds germinate, or sprout, the top of the soil surface needs to remain moist enough that the seedlings can break through the soil surface. Once the seedlings sprout, the amount of water can be cut back to watering when the soil surface is dry to the touch. Damping off is a common infection that occurs in seedlings that are growing in a cool moist environment. It is commonly caused by fungi and causes the seedling to rot off just below the soil 6line. Pay close attention to the seedlings and check for issues on a regular basis.

Plan ahead, provide the proper environment, and be on the lookout for potential problems, before long the transplant crops you start now will be ready to be placed in the garden.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, her blog at, HuskerHort on Facebook and Twitter, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website:


Pruning Storm Damaged Trees February 11, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Elizabeth Killinger @ 4:13 pm
Tags: ,
A Snow Covered Branch.  Photo courtesy

A Snow Covered Branch. Photo courtesy

The recent storms have dumped a load of snow across Nebraska, but the warm temperatures have been welcomed with open arms. Take advantage of the warm temperatures to scout for potential issues in your landscape.

Heavy snow and ice build-up on plants can cause some problems. Enough build up can lead to limb breakage or even splits on limbs and trunks. Ideally, allow the ice and snow to melt naturally from the limbs. If the snow is weighing down the tree or the limbs, gently brush off the snow. Do not hit a branch to knock off the snow or ice, it can cause more damage to the plants.

Eventually it is unavoidable somewhere along the line there will be some storm damage to trees. The Nebraska Forest Service has a few tips for homeowners who are caring for storm damaged trees:

  • Safety at all times. Use caution around trees during and after extreme weather. Falling limbs and debris may be hazards long after the storm has passed.
  • Inspect the trees for splits or cracks in the trunk. This might indicate a structural problem with the tree. If you think a tree has sustained structural damage, contact an arborist.
  • Never climb a damaged tree to remove limbs or attempt clean up a tree that is leaning.
  • Be wary of individuals who go door-to-door to get your business, use a local reputable service.
  • Pass on offers to top your tree. Topping harms the tree and increases the likelihood of structural problems and the trees recovery time after a storm.
  • Wait for ice and snow to melt off of trees before pruning.
  • Check the whole tree before pruning. First remove any dead, diseased, or broken branches that can easily be reached from the ground.

If more than 50% of the tree’s branches need to be removed due to storm damage, consult an arborist and consider removing the tree.

Be sure to have the correct information from a reputable source. If you are dealing with large trees or trees with significant storm damage contact a certified arborist. Don’t know who is a certified arborist in the area? You can go to several locations to find a list of certified arborists. You can look at the Nebraska Arborist Association or the International Society of Arboriculture’s webpages. Both offer a ‘find arborists’ searches for lists of certified arborists in your area.

If you are able to do the pruning yourself, get all of the facts to make sure you are not only pruning properly, but also safely. Winter is one of the best times of year to prune deciduous trees. It can also be one of the most potentially detrimental seasons to trees as well as a hazardous one for homeowners who do their own pruning.   Getting all of the correct facts and asking for help can mean a safe season for all. The Nebraska Forest Service has multiple publications that deal with all tree related topics, even pruning storm damaged trees. This information can be found at

Deciduous trees drop their leaves in the fall, which gives us a couple of reason why we prune them in winter. The branching structure is more easily seen in winter because of the lack of leaves on the trees. When trees have leaves, they are making food. This food is transported throughout the tree as sap. In winter, the tree has no leaves, therefore it is not making food and there is minimal sap flow. If the tree is pruned in spring, late March or early April, the sap is already flowing throughout the tree. The cut surfaces ooze or bleed sap, which attracts insects and other wildlife. This can increase the potential for disease infestations as well as the potential for the tree not healing as fast as it would in the winter months.

Take advantage of the warm weather and do a little scouting in your landscape. With the proper care and maintenance, winter storms don’t have to spell disaster for your trees.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, her blog at, HuskerHort on Facebook and Twitter, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website:


Windbreaks January 29, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Elizabeth Killinger @ 8:04 pm

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Snow is more than just white fluffy stuff. It give great exercise to those who scoop it, acts as a buffer between the frigid temperatures and plant material, and it can also show how windbreaks work and tests their effectiveness. Who would have known that snow was so useful?

Windbreaks are a way to slow wind and the snow it carries. They can reduce the effort spent on snow management, which means the possibility of less work for you. Most windbreaks are designed with one of two main objectives in mind: to spread the snow across a large area or to dump it in a relatively small area. The objective of the windbreak determines its design. Those that distribute the snow over a large area, like field windbreaks, are tall and are relatively porous. This allows the snow to be spread out over the field and allow for a more even distribution of moisture. Windbreaks that have multiple rows and are planted close together are designed to slow the wind and dump the snow in a designated area.

If you want to control blowing winds and to confine snow, consider a living snow fence. These types of “snow fences” you only have to install once, compared to every year with the traditional slat style or plastic snow fences. The benefits of living snow fences include a greater snow capacity, less maintenance once they are established, a longer life span, a wide range of benefits like wildlife habitat, and not to mention the aesthetic value. In major storms, the vertical slat snow fences can reach their snow storing capacity quickly. According to the Nebraska Forest Service, a three-row mature living snow fence with a height of 20 feet will store over 16 times more snow than a single-row slat-fence with a height of 3-4 feet.

There are a few rules to follow when thinking of installing a planting to control snow and wind. The living snow fence is most effective when it is placed perpendicular to the prevailing winter winds. These usually come from the Northwest in Nebraska. There should be plenty of room on the leeward side, back side, of the windbreak for drifts. Location of corners and roads also plays a role in the location of the windbreak. Trees should be planted no closer than 200 feet from corners or intersections to allow for traffic visibility and sight lines for vehicles.

The plant material that you use is also important in windbreak design. The species will vary depending on the climate, soil type, windbreak objectives, and most importantly the space that is available for the mature plant. When choosing plant material, remember the growing conditions and available space. Species diversity is key with windbreak design. Windbreaks that are made up of one or two species are more susceptible to being wiped out by insects or diseases if an infestation occurs. Diverse windbreaks are still functional if an infestation occurs within one or two species.

Windbreaks, like most things, also have a useful lifespan. If your windbreak is mature, between 30-50 years old, it might be time to rejuvenate. Your local Natural Resource District, NRD, might be the place to turn. They offer low-cost seedling trees for planting farm or livestock windbreaks, wildlife habitat, living snow fences, or other plantings. For more information about the NRD Conservation Tree Program contact your local NRD office.

It may be time to rethink your feelings about snow. Instead of thinking of it as a burden, try to think of it as a blessing, especially when it melts.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website:



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