'Garden Planning For Frosty Months:' Master Gardeners Tested During Panel Discussion
On a rainy midwinter afternoon this week, nearly 30 people gathered in the Olga Knoepke Memorial Meeting Room at C.H. Booth Library to share thoughts on gardening.
The Garden Club of Newtown hosted "Garden Planning For Frosty Months," a radio-style symposium on January 23. Advanced Master Gardeners Holly Kocet and Marilynn Klepfer answered questions that had been submitted by garden club members two weeks earlier. Longtime member Deb Osborne served as emcee for the program, which ran for approximately 75 minutes.
Fellow Garden Club of Newtown member Maureen McLaughlin, also a master gardener, had been scheduled to participate in the presentation but was unable to attend due to illness. Nevertheless, Ms McLaughlin was represented during the program thanks to answers she had submitted to some of the questions.
The two gardeners on hand Tuesday afternoon sat at a table in the front of the meeting room. The table was adorned with three cardboard microphones, created by Ms Osborne to look like old-fashioned radio microphones. Reference books and handwritten notes also filled the top of the table.
After Ms Osborne read each question, Ms Klepfer or Ms Kocet launched into an answer. While each woman had specialties that they had prepared answers for, each was able to offer supporting information to nearly every question put to them.
It was impressive to watch the women work. Each had obviously done her prepwork for the presentation.
Citing both published research and personal experience, Ms Klepfer and Ms Kocet offered detailed answers on topics ranging from pruning, tomato plants, and peonies to plants that hold on to their leaves during winter, mulch, and ticks, among other topics. Many of their answers not only covered proper care and maintenance of myriad types of plants, but also encouraged environmentally friendly approaches.
In response to a question about the best fertilizer to use on flowers, Ms Kocet said she always recommends organic fertilizer.
"They are gentle, and slow-release," she explained. "They also add macro and micro nutrients to the soils to sustain plants for resiliency."
After mentioning a few personal favorite products, and explaining that fertilizers can be found to support specific types of plants, she reiterated her initial point, saying "Whatever you use, I recommend organic products rather than synthetics."
When asked about so-called "weed and feed products," Ms Kocet said that while such items make some tasks easier, one drawback that many do not consider is how easily those chemical-laden products are tracked into homes and elsewhere.
"They fertilize, and they kill weeds like dandelions, and they're marketed as convenient items," she said.
"The problem is," she continued, "the timing of the fertilizing doesn't necessary coordinate with the appearance of a weed or insect problem."
Uneven application, the pollution of water resources, and the risk posed to birds and other pollinators are all reasons to not consider using such products, according to Ms Kocet. There is also, as mentioned above, the risk posed when the product is tracked from the application site to other places.
"You're putting chemicals out there, you're stepping in it, and then you're carrying it to areas with pets and children," she said. "Health risks include cumulative and toxic effects from different chemicals. Some of these items can cause cancer, neurological problems, and more."
Such items are also banned in Canada, she pointed out.
"So why aren't they banned here?" she asked.
While answering a question about natural ways to control weeds in lawns, Ms Klepfer began by suggesting that homeowners reduce the amount of lawn on their property.
"I have two acres," she said, "and one-sixteenth is in lawn. Everything else is either in woods, or in perennials and shrubs. So the first thing I would do is encourage you to reduce the amount of lawn that you have."
Addressing the question itself, she said that consumers are "continuously being plagued with ads, and encouragements when we enter garden centers, to throw this, that, and the other on our lawn.
"Much of it goes down into our water supply, and kills off our pollinators," she pointed out. Organic means are available, she said, but the smaller the area one has to weed, the less concern there is about putting anything into the ground.
"One thing you can do in the spring," she said, "is use a preemergent, which is corn gluten, which when it breaks down and decomposes, will provide nitrogen to your lawn and help green up your lawn."
Ms Klepfer, the group learned, is a huge proponent of soil testing. Many of the questions that were posed to her had their answers begin with that first step.
"The thing about testing your soil is, it's not just about the nutrients that are in your soil, it's about the texture of your soil as well," she said at one point. "If your soil gets compacted it doesn't let water and air drain, it will drown your roots, the turf will not be hardy, and that leaves bare spots for weeds, which don't care what the soil is like, to go in and fill in those spaces and kill off your grass.
"The soil is where most problems seem to begin," she said.
When asked about the frequency of fertilizing an established perennial garden, the audience laughed when Ms Klepfer again offered that suggestion as part of her answer.
"You want to do this generally in the spring, as soil temps break 50 degrees," she began. "Do some cleaning of the diseased materials, and do a soil test."
Ms Kocet laughed along with others, saying "She loves those soil tests," while looking toward her fellow master gardener.
Concerns about perennials that may have been killed by the winter temperatures were somewhat alleviated on Tuesday.
"I think we've had enough snow cover, and when the snow has melted we've had a lot of rain," Ms Kocet began.
"I think everything will be OK, but the time to worry really will be in a few months, when we have thaws and freezes," she added. "I don't think anything's thawed, which is evident by the fact that we've got all these ice blocks in the rivers. I think we're OK yet, but stay tuned."
Tuesday's program moved steadily, with plenty of information shared by the two panelists. By 2:15, all were ready to take a break.
And that's it," Ms Kocet said, leaning in toward one of the mics after the final question was answered. "We are off the air."
As she and the others began cleaning up their papers, their wishes for gardening weather were briefly answered. After a day and a half of heavy clouds and occasional showers, Mother Nature smiled and the sun began to shine.
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