Time to think about spring seeds, landscaping

January 22, 2008|By BOB KESSLER

A series of workshops to help homeowners learn to design their own landscapes will be held from 7 to 9:30 p.m. on Wednesdays from Feb. 13 through April 2.

The workshops are taught by Franklin County Master Gardeners. They will all be held at the Penn State Cooperative Extension Office in the basement meeting rooms at 181 Franklin Farm Lane in Chambersburg, Pa. The cost is $40 for the series. Stop by the extension office to register or call 717-263-9226 to reserve your spot in the workshops.

The first three weeks will provide the basics of developing a landscape plan. The remaining classes will offer information on plant choices and other features in the landscape. One week will be devoted to vertical gardening and using native stones in your landscape. We will discuss native plants, and which ones will work best in your yard. We will also talk about invasive plants and which ones to avoid in landscape plans.


Seed catalogs

January is the month for seed catalogs. But if you do not get a catalog, no problem. Many people don't want catalogs because they can order seeds online from most mail-order companies.

This is especially helpful if you are looking for something a little less widely grown.

If the warm weather during the Pennsylvania Farm Show put you in the mood to order gardening seeds, here are a few Web sites for your convenience. This listing is not an endorsement of the companies nor is the exclusion of any company a negative reflection on those companies. I simply cannot list them all.

Burpee Catalog

Johnny's Seeds

Stokes Seeds

Cooks Garden

If you know of a seed company and want to see if it has a Web site, search for it using Google or another search engine. If you type into the search engine that you want organic seeds, you will find more than 250,000 links to sites about organic seeds.

Many of the major companies have organic seeds, but you can also find smaller companies. You can find sources for native and heirloom seeds, too.

When you look at these sites, keep in mind that we are in growing zone 6-b. Plants that do well in Texas might not like our cool springs and falls, so use some judgment when you select a seed source.

As you look for different seed companies and the seeds they offer, also look for the "All American Winners." Each year there is a process in the horticulture industry that evaluates the newer offerings from plant breeders. The best are named "All American Winners" in flowers and vegetables. You know when you see this on a particular variety that it is a newer offering by the seed company, and, in trials, has done well.

If you are finding handling seeds is becoming more difficult because of the small size, consider purchasing pelleted seed. These are coated to make them easier to handle. Some companies have plants already started that they will ship you, so you can skip the seeding process.

Storm damage to trees

The storms in the Midwest late last year did a tremendous amount of damage to trees. In a recent article published by Kansas State Extension, an extension educator said some of the trees with the least damage were bald cypress, ginkgo, golden raintree, honey locust, linden, crabapple, autumn blaze, maple, red maple, sugar maple, red oak, bur oak, osage orange, aristocrat pear, chanticleer pear, redbud, sweet gum, sycamore, zelkova and Austrian pine.

Trees that had the most damage were the Bradford pear, willow and silver maple.

What does this tell us? Well, we know the Bradford pear, willow and silver maple have a tendency to be weak wood, so these are not a surprise. We know slower growing trees tend to be stronger trees, so trees like the maples should be expected to do better with the heavy weight of ice or snow.

When the extension educators in Kansas made additional observations, one of the obvious reasons for tree damage was trees being "topped," which is an improper pruning method to reduce the size of a tree.

It results weak growth as the tree recovers from topping, and leads to severe damage from ice. Older trees broke more often than young trees. Trees that still had leaves broke more than others.

Trees are a big investment in our landscape. While we don't have ice storms often in our area, we do get some, as well as early snows and high winds. Plant trees that are well-suited to the site, and care for your trees properly. This includes proper pruning. Protect your investment and provide proper care for your trees.

Bob Kessler is an extension agent specializing in farm and garden for Penn State University. He is based in Franklin County, Pa. He can be reached weekdays at 717-263-9226 or by e-mail at

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