Prune Now for Beautiful Summer Trees

Prune Now for Beautiful Summer Trees
By Marie Woodward, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

Person cutting a tree with a hand saw
Photo by

Winter is a great time for gardeners to plan for their next growing season. Many think that planning can only be done inside. Not so. Now is an ideal time to prune deciduous landscape trees. The absence of leaves gives a clear view of the canopy above and allows for a clear assessment of a tree’s structure and any problems that may be present. In addition, there are no pests present in winter, and disease spread will be slowed by the cold weather. But before heading outside with those loppers and pruning saws, there are a few important things to know and consider.

It's important to understand the tree’s anatomy. A typical deciduous landscape tree will consist of three main parts: the leader, the scaffolding branches and the lateral branches. The leader is the dominant vertical branch of the tree. This is easily spotted as the straight, most upward growth from the trunk. The leader is the tree’s most important branch, crucial for the tree’ structure, photosynthesis, and even distribution of nutrients. Scaffolding branches emerge from the trunk and the leader to make up the canopy of the tree. Secondary branches that grow from the scaffold branches are called lateral branches. Once you understand the basic structure of the tree, it’s much easier to successfully prune it.

Tree Anatomy

Photo from Virginia Cooperative ExtensionFirst, assess the tree. What species of tree is it? That will reveal its natural structure, something your pruning should ideally strive to support. Note though, that proximity to buildings or human activity nearby is likely to influence your pruning strategy (keeping scaffolding branches clear of buildings, for example, or making sure people can walk under the lowest branch?)

Locate the leader of the tree and look for problem branches. Dead, diseased, damaged, or crossing branches should be pruned first. When pruning dead or diseased branches, make cuts into healthy wood, well below the affected area. It’s also a good idea to disinfect tools between cuts to help prevent the spread of disease. (A 10% solution of bleach to water works well.)

After the tree’s diseased, damaged, or crossing branches are pruned, look for lateral branches that are trying to compete vertically with the leader. They can draw energy away from the leader and sap the tree’s vigor. Usually, there is no need to remove all of a competing branch. Just pruning the vertical portion back to the scaffold branch should be sufficient. This will slow the competitor branch’s rate of growth, allowing the leader to dominate.

When pruning a scaffold branch, it is important to cut outside the branch collar. That is the swollen area at the base of the branch, where it joins the trunk.  Make the cut outside the branch collar at a 45-to-60-degree angle to the trunk and leave it alone to heal naturally. There is no need to coat or cover cuts. Doing so could prevent the wound from healing and might seal in pathogens adversely affecting the health of the tree.

Branch anatomy for cutting and pruning safely
Image from

According to Pete Smith, forester and arborist from the Arbor Day Foundation, there are five main factors to consider when pruning trees:

  1. After pruning, two-thirds of the height of the tree should still have branches and leaves to keep growing in a healthy manner.
  2. Do not remove more than one third of the total branches in one year.
  3. Branches attached to the trunk should not be more than one half of the diameter of the main trunk.
  4. Every pruning cut should be no more than one inch in diameter
  5. There should be a total of five cuts in a year.

Of course, when pruning a long-neglected tree, it may take a few seasons to be able to apply all five rules, but ultimately, your trees will be healthier and more beautiful if you follow these guidelines.

For questions about pruning or if you have any other gardening questions, contact the UConn Home & Garden Education at (877) 486-6271 or or your local Cooperative Extension Center.


The HGEC is at the CT Flower & Garden Show 2/22/24 – 2/25/24

The CT Flower & Garden Show is here!
We’re at booth 417 & 419 with staff from the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory, the UConn Plant Diagnostic Lab, and volunteers from the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program every day of the show! Come ask our staff your gardening questions, get your soil pH readings, meet with master gardeners and check out our exciting talks all throughout the weekend!

Tips for the February Gardener

Tips for the February Gardener

By Dawn Pettinelli, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

Pothos with yellow leaves
Photo by dmp2024

February is a tough time for gardeners. Days are getting longer but the cold temperatures, and in many cases, snow, are keeping us inside. This is a good month to provide houseplants with a little TLC before the weather warms and the gardens beckon.

If possible, bring your plants one by one to the kitchen sink. Give them a thorough grooming by removing any dead or off color leaves. Trim back wayward or undesirable growth. Then give them a good rinsing under the faucet or use a wet cloth to wipe dust off of their leaves. For plants with hairy leaves, like African violets, a soft brush could be used to clean their leaves. Wash their saucers out before setting plants back.

Plants that have outgrown their pots can be repotted at this time. Usually, plants would be moved up to a pot that is an inch or 2 wider. Loosen or trim roots if they are growing in a circle or very dense. An all-purpose potting mix can be used for most plants but specialized mixes for plants like cacti and African violets are also available.

Your amaryllis has probably finished blooming by now. Cut off any spent flowers. Some people like to leave the stem until it yellows as it can photosynthesize but I generally remove the whole stalk after flowering. If you want plants to rebloom next year, the foliage needs light, water and nutrients to grow. Set your plant in a bright location and fertilize monthly starting in March. Plants can be moved outdoors after the danger of frost has passed either in their pots or set them into the ground in a part shady spot. Bring inside in mid-October and let the bulbs go dormant in a dark, warm area for about 8 weeks and then repot for another season of striking trumpet-shaped blooms. Some cultivars do not require a dormant period.

Check on any tender bulbs that you have in storage. Dahlias and tuberous begonias can shrivel if they dry out too much. They are usually stored in some barely moistened peat moss or wood shavings. Sprinkle with a little water if they are on the dry side. Also, this would be a good time to check on any winter squash, potatoes or other vegetables that you’ve been keeping. Use them up before they spoil.

Time spent perusing garden catalogs, either in print or digital format, is a great way to get through cold, winter days. When making out a seed order, don’t forget to note what seeds you have leftover from last year. Most seeds retain their viability for at least a year. It’s always a good idea to plan out the vegetable garden so you know what’s going to be planted where, and when. Last frost dates for your area can be found at: The UConn Master Gardener program is offering a Garden Journal with tips on how to plan and maintain your flower and vegetable gardens and plenty of room for you to make notes. To order go to:

Most of us recognize the benefits of buying local when it comes to produce and other Connecticut grown products but did you know we have at least 5 seed companies in Connecticut. They include Select Seeds (, the Chas. C. Hart Seed Co. (, the Heirloom Market at Comstock Ferre selling Baker’s Creek Heirloom Seeds (, John Scheppers Kitchen Garden Seeds (, and New England Seed Company ( Be sure to see what they have to offer either online or at various retail locations.

If you need a floral fix to get you through to spring, stop by the CT Flower and Garden Show at the Convention Center in Hartford, Feb 22 -25. Visit the UConn Home & Garden Education Center’s booth for a free pH test (bring a half cup of soil) and answers to your gardening questions. A blooming time can also be had at Elizabeth Park’s Greenhouse Bulb and Plant Show, March 1 – 9. Since spring can’t be here soon enough, you’ll just have to go to where the flowers are blooming!

For your gardening questions, feel free to contact us, toll-free, at the UConn Home & Garden Education Center at (877) 486-6271, visit our website at or contact your local Cooperative Extension center.

Connecticut Barns

Connecticut Barns
By Pamm Cooper, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

Venturing out in the rural Connecticut landscape, there are reminders of the agricultural age that dominated the landscape. Farms that once used their land for raising livestock and growing crops have either been abandoned or slashed in size to accommodate new homes. Sometimes all that remains of the original farm property is the farmhouse and a barn or two. Those barns remain interesting to me architecturally- because of the quality of materials and workmanship that went into building them, and in a nostalgic way, because I grew up in dairy country in New York state. I used to play in barns, and I wish I had had more of an interest in the structure of the barns when I was so close to them, inside and out.

One of the more familiar barns in Connecticut are the post and beam structures. Nathan Hale Homestead in Coventry features one built in the 1760’s. This barn is on the National Register of Historic Places in Connecticut, and it is built in the English/ New England hybrid style which normally had a gable roof and vertical sheathing. The historic Jacobson barn on the UConn campus also has a post and beam structure.

The English barn is a simple building with a rectangular plan, a pitched roof, and a door or doors located on one or both, of the long sides of the building. English barns featured three distinct bays, the center one being for the threshing of grain, and the side bays used for livestock and hay storage. Footings and foundations were typically made of stone, an abundant resource in Connecticut landscapes, and the stones normally had no mortar. Doors on English barns were hinged and swung open.

New England barns are usually a type of bank barn, built into the side of a hill giving ground level access to one side, but a ramp or rarely a bridge were used to access the doors. Roof and eave overhangs were typically one foot to protect walls from rainwater. Ventilators and cupolas were added to some barns in the 19th century to reduce moisture build-up. Some barns had stairs, but most featured ladder access to the second floor. New England style barns normally had a gable roof and vertical sheathing. 

A picturesque red barn with white trim and a cupola is located on Main Street, South Windsor, and it is an example of an English/ New England hybrid style barn. The New England style barn, built after 1830, could stand alone or be connected to other farm buildings and often had an off-centered end wall entrance for wagons.

The Morse Farm barn in Scotland is listed on the National Register, the State Historic Resource Inventory, and the State Register. This carriage house style barn has one and one half stories and features a gambrel roof design. A gambrel roof has two distinctive two slopes on each side, with the upper slope pitched at a shallow angle and the lower slope at a steeper angle. This allowed for more headroom when working on the upper floor. This barn had a combined use as a stable and carriage storage.

On Valley Falls Road in Vernon, the historic red barn, built between 1875 and 1920 features a gambrel bank style and with a cupola and a timber frame structure. A milking stable was in the basement, featuring the typical cement floor and manure gutters and whitewashed walls. It is listed in the Local Historic District and the State Register.

Gilbert Road in Stafford features an English Bank style of barn. Not too far away, on 425 Old Springfield Road in Stafford there is the Greystone Farm English style barn that features exterior siding of gray fieldstone, and flush board and vertical siding on other sections. The roof is a gable type.

The Sheridan Farmstead (c. 1760) on Hebron Road in Bolton is listed on the State Register of Historic Places and features a gentleman’s barn built in 1900. A gentleman’s barn had a dual purpose as a weekend retreat and a working farm. The white extended English bank barn features a stairway to the upper level, hay chutes, a brick chimney, rolling doors, an earthen ramp and horse stalls on the ground level.

There are many more barns, both old ones and newer ones, that are still interesting and useful. To those familiar with the past, barns offer a glimpse into the past, and maybe the present, as well. Tobacco barns, for example, although dwindling in number, are still very much a part of Connecticut’s past and present.

To locate barns on the Connecticut State Register of Historic Places, visit the website on this link- For your gardening questions, feel free to contact us, toll-free, at the UConn Home & Garden Education Center at (877) 486-6271, visit our website at or contact your local Cooperative Extension center.

Hearts for Valentine’s Day

 Hearts for Valentine’s Day
By Dawn Pettinelli, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

While there’s always the traditional Valentine’s Day gifts of flowers and candy, why not give that special someone a plant with heart-shaped leaves that will likely last much longer than chocolates or bouquets. There are actually a number of plant species to choose from with some being quite easy to grow.

Perhaps the cutest, as well as the easiest is the Sweetheart hoya (Hoya kerrii). Hoyas are a very slow growing, vining plant with stems that may reach 13 feet in length. Typically, it is grown in a wreath form or on a trellis. The pink or white flowers are fragrant but not produced in great abundance.

While this plant has the most adorable heart-shaped leaves, the ones that are sold as a single leaf in a pot will, in most cases, remain as a single leaf. Unless a piece of stem was left attached to the potted leaf, the plant is not able to initiate new leaf or stem formation. This makes for a simple plant to care for, however. Keep your Sweetheart hoya leaf in a bright sunny spot with temperatures in the 60 to 80 degree F range and water when dry.

Sweetheart Hoya
Sweetheart Hoya - Image by dmp2024

Another plant for small spaces with charming marbled, heart-shaped leaves is the String of Hearts (Ceropegia woodii). While the dainty individual stems can grow 12 feet long, they can be trimmed to keep the plant compact. The grey-green leaves are small, only about ½ inch in diameter. String of Hearts is a succulent best grown in a potting mix labeled for cacti and set in bright, filtered sunlight. Let plants dry out slightly between waterings. Keep away from drafts and note that plants may go dormant if the temperature falls below 60 F.

Philodendrons (P. hederaceum) have been grown for ages and with good reason. These tough, vining plants with heart-shaped leaves tolerate the lower light levels found in many homes. Stems may grow 3 feet or longer and plants are best suited to a hanging basket or trellis. Exciting newer cultivars such as ‘Brasil’, ‘Cream Splash’ and ‘Rio’ offer variegated leaves. Grow plants in bright, indirect light and avoid overwatering. Trim plants if they overgrow their bounds.

More recently, anthuriums with their flashy colored spathes in red, orange, pinks, and purples have been livening up the holiday plant scene. Both the spathes, which are modified leaves, and the true glossy, green leaves are shaped like hearts. Plants grow to about 16 inches high and if content will produce long-lasting colorful spathes several months of the year. Tiny flowers are on the tail-like spike that emerges from each spathe. Anthuriums also appreciate bright but indirect light, a well-draining, acidic soilless potting media and to be kept moderately moist.

Similar in care to anthuriums, syngoniums have heart-shaped leaves and new varieties come in various shades of pink, purplish red and even variegated cultivars. Syngoniums are evergreen climbers but can be maintained as a shrubby houseplant if trailing stems are removed. As the plant ages, leaves become more arrow-shaped. Plants enjoy warmth and humidity and do best in moderately moist potting mixes and in bright diffused light.

Syngonium - Image by dmp2024

A little harder to find but worth the search is the Heart Fern (Hemionitis arifolia). Like many tropical ferns, it prefers indirect light in a warm, humid location. Plants may reach 10 inches tall and wide. The leaves are dimorphic, with the sterile fronds being heart-shaped and the fertile ones resembling arrowheads. Unlike most ferns, the foliage is thick and leathery. Being an epiphyte, plants should be grown in a light, airy potting mix and kept moist at all times.

Lastly, there are varieties of English ivy (Hedera helix) with heart-shaped leaves. ‘Sweetheart’ and ‘Heart’ are two common cultivars. Blue-green leaves form along stems that can be trimmed to any length. Grow as a hanging basket or in a decorative pot. English ivy enjoys cooler temperatures and bright but diffused light. East or north facing windows are ideal locations.

This year, mix it up a little for Valentine’s Day and give the heart-felt gift of a plant with heart-shaped leaves. Do note that some of the above plants are toxic if consumed so should be kept away from children and pets.

If you have questions about these plants or if you have any other gardening questions, contact the UConn Home & Garden Education at (877) 486-6271 or or your local Cooperative Extension Center.

Chocolates for your Valentine and other February News

Chocolates for Your Valentine!

Chocolate scented helianthus in bloom
Chocolate scented helianthus by Pamm Cooper

Many of us celebrate Valentine’s Day with a box of chocolates. What if you surprised your valentine with a chocolate garden that could last them all growing season long? We've found a couple of lists for you that can help you plan a garden that has the sights, smells, and even tastes of our favorite valentine’s day treat and compliments to make it pop! Check out these plant lists to help you create your own chocolate garden for this spring!

Plants for the Chocolate Theme Garden

Chocolate Plants

What’s the Buzz About Cicadas in 2024?

You may have heard the media buzz already that there is going to be a significant event this year in the entomology world. Periodical cicadas, who emerge on either a 13 year or 17 year cycle, will overlap for the first time in 221 years! Many are preparing to see an increase in insect activity and asking us how to best prepare their gardens. While this is indeed fascinating, there are a few details that are being left out of the whole story and we want to help set the record straight!

These periodical cicadas are species that spend a significant part of their life underground. However, there are multiple populations, known as "broods" that emerge on different schedules. Because of this, it is typical to see a 13 year brood and a 17 year brood emerge "together" roughly every 5 years. These insects will emerge, begin singing their chorus of mating songs, and feed on nearby woody ornamentals. However, their damage is rarely extensive.

Photo of Cicada by University of Connecticut

Over the years, scientists have been able to map exactly where specific broods live. The two broods of interest this year, Brood XIX (13 year) and Brood XIII (17 Year) will emerge in adjacent locations, but the overlap is not anticipated to be significant. It is indeed the first time in 221 years that these two specific broods are emerging at the same time.

The greatest impact may be found around Springfield, Illinois and surrounding areas.  Here in Connecticut, we will not see these broods. While we may not see the once in a lifetime periodical cicada emergence here at home, we will still be able to enjoy the songs of our Annual Cicadas. Keep an ear out for them this summer. To learn more about periodical cicadas, check out the link below!

The 2024 Periodical Cicada Emergence

Native Plant Highlight: Red Columbine

Red Columbine Flower
Image of Red Columbine flower by GoBotany

Red columbine (Aquilegia canadenis) is a shade-loving perennial that has attractive foliage and eye-catching red and yellow flowers that resemble tiny ballerinas. It attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and hawk moths. As a short-lived perennial, it prefers to self-sow and pop up in places with bare soil. Plant or sow columbine seeds in areas where you are waiting for other plants to grow. It will prove to be a good competitor for weeds To learn more about this beautiful native perennial, visit GoBotany: Aquilegia canadensis


Wildlife Highlight: Brandt Goose

Along the Connecticut shoreline there are many species of birds that can only be found here in the winter. Among them are Brant geese, sanderlings and ruddy turnstones. Brant geese resemble Canada geese but are smaller and lack the white cheek patch. These geese breed in the lower Arctic regions. Look for small groups of them foraging off rocks and dipping in the salt water for vegetation.

February 2024 Weather Outlook

A seasoned gardener always keeps their eye to the sky at any time of year! NOAA's National Weather Service released their discussion about how weather patterns will continue to shape this winter season. 

Precipitation outlook Feb 2024
Precipitation outlook Feb 2024 - NOAA

Temperature Outlook Feb 2024
Temperature Outlook February 2024 - NOAA


Knowledge to Grow On

Bonsai tree before and after pruning
Bonsai tree before and after pruning. Photo by Laurel Humphrey

Read our Ladybug blogs written weekly

Bonsai for Beginners
A Glimpse of Some Connecticut Lichens
Calculating Slope for Your Landscape
Pretty Cape Primroses

Upcoming Events and Things to Do

  • CT Flower & Garden Show Feb 22-25, 2024. Connecticut Convention Center. Theme: Bursting into Spring! ​​The UConn Home & Garden Education Center will have a booth at the CT Flower & Garden Show to answer plant questions, provide free pH testing for your soil samples, and we will be having speakers every day of the show.
    • Thursday 11:00AM - Dawn Pettinelli
      • Healthy Soils, Healthy Plants, Healthy You 
    • Friday 12:30PM - Pamm Cooper
      • Home on DeRange
    • Saturday 12:30 PM - Heather Zidack
      • Home Gardening Tips in a New Home
    • Sunday 11:00AM - Dr. Nick Goltz
      • The Plant Doctor is In: Flower Disease 101
  • Check out the CT Winter Wine Trail - From January 6th to March 30th, 13 wineries in the state participate in a passport program where visiting each of the sponsors can lead to prizes and adventure!
  • Get your seeds and seed starting supplies, locally! While many big box stores can be a great resource for affordable seed and seed starting products, local businesses like Natureworks Organic Garden Center, Hart Seed CompanyComstock Ferre and other garden centers throughout the state are starting to provide these products and their expertise as well!  February is still a great time to get a jump on your gardening chores! 

Educational Opportunities and Workshops

  • The 2024 Northeast Extension Fruit Consortium winter series features sessions in February and March. Specific dates for various sessions and registration information can be found on their web page.
  • February 10th, 11AM-2PM in Litchfield, CT Cut it Out! The Local History and Practice of Ice Harvesting - Learn about how ice was harvested and stored right here in Connecticut! 
  • Mark your calendars for the CT Compost Conference (Details Below)

    February Gardening Tips

    1. Recent temperature swings may cause perennials to heave out of the ground. Gently push them back into the soil or cover with mulch.

    2. If you potted bulbs for forcing last fall, check their progress. Soil should be barely moist. If tips have sprouted and have a few inches of growth, bring the pot into a cool, bright room (50 to 60 degrees F). Gradually expose the plant to increasing warmth, indirect sunlight, and increased watering. Feed once a week with half-strength houseplant fertilizer. To help the stems grow straight, turn the pot every day. When buds and foliage are fully developed, bring into full sunlight, and enjoy!

    3. Begin fertilizing houseplants with a water-soluble fertilizer as they resume active growth.

    4. Turn the compost pile during any stretches of mild weather. 

    5. If you’re starting seeds under fluorescent lights, check the light tubes for signs of age. Dark rings on the ends of tubes means they should be replaced. Dispose of properly.

    6. Prune grape vines at the end of the month.

    7. This is the tine to prune currants. On a mild day, remove all deadwood and low shoots that are over 3 years old. Prune to an outward-facing bud. Prune apple and pear trees as the weather allows.

    8. When using salt to melt ice on walks and driveways, spread it carefully to avoid damage to nearby shrubs. Consider using sand or sawdust instead. After the snow melts, flush the area around the roots exposed to salt with fresh water.

    9. If you are overwintering plants into your garage or cellar, check the soil to see if it needs water. If the soil is frozen, it may be in too cold of a spot.

    10. Bring pruning tools inside and clean them for the upcoming season. Disassemble hand pruners, and loppers. Sharpen the blades, oil the levers, and remove any rust.

    The Master Gardener program is selling garden journals and calendars as a fundraiser and they still have some left! Order yours while there's still availability! 

    Photo Op: Fascinating Sights

    See something cool in your garden? Send your pictures to us at with subject line “Newsletter Photo” and a brief caption to be considered for next month’s highlight!  

    Graphis scripta script lichen

    Graphis scripta script lichen Oak grove Jan 2024 for newsletter by Pamm Cooper

    This Month’s Newsletter Contributors: 
    Pamm Cooper, Dr. Nick Goltz, Dawn Pettinelli, Marie Woodward, Heather Zidack 


    Watch Out for These Nutrient Deficiency Symptoms

    Watch Out for These Nutrient Deficiency Symptoms
    By Haiying Tao, Ph.D., UConn Home & Garden Education Center

    Plants need at least seventeen essential nutrients to complete their life cycles. Scientists group these essential nutrients into macronutrients (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, sulfur, calcium and magnesium), which are required in large quantities and micronutrients (zinc, iron, copper, boron, manganese, chlorine, molybdenum and nickel) which are required in small quantities. Sufficient amounts of these nutrients are required in order for plants to produce well. If there is a deficiency of any essential element, yield and quality can be reduced. Alternatively, too much of a nutrient can be toxic to plants. Diagnosing nutrient deficiencies and toxicities is important for both growers and gardeners to ensure optimum harvests.

    When low in an essential nutrient, plants exhibit distinct visual symptoms, which often allows us to distinguish which nutrient is deficient. A first step in diagnosing nutrient deficiencies is to describe what the symptoms look like. Symptoms caused by nutrient deficiencies are generally grouped into five categories: 1) stunted growth; 2) chlorosis or yellowing; 3) leaf spots; 4) purplish-red coloring; and 5) necrosis or death of plant parts.

    The next step is to identify whether the deficiency symptoms appear on older (lower) leaves or younger (upper) leaves first. If the deficiency symptoms appear on older leaves first, then the deficiency symptoms are possibly caused by one of the nutrients that are mobile in plants, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, chlorine, or molybdenum. In contrast, deficiency of nutrients that are immobile (calcium, sulfur, boron, copper, iron, zinc, manganese, nickel), the symptoms first appear on younger or upper leaves.

    Nitrogen deficiency on corn leaf.
    Nitrogen deficiency on corn leaf. Photo by Dr. Haiying Tao

    Nitrogen deficiency symptoms include yellowing of the lower leaves (chlorosis), stunted and slow growth, and death of older leaves in severe cases. Nitrogen deficient plants will mature early, and the crop quality and yield are often reduced.

    Phosphorus deficiency symptoms occur in the older leaves first and typical deficiency symptoms are purpling of leaves and leaf margins and stunted growth. Plants that are deficient in phosphorus are generally weak and maturity is delayed.

    Potassium deficiency symptoms first appear on older leaves. Typical deficiency symptoms are yellowing and necrosis of the leaf margins. When potassium deficiency is severe, older leaves turn yellow with brown dead tissue around the edges, but the upper new leaves may stay green. Sometimes one may confuse potassium and nitrogen deficiency because both show yellowing on older (lower) leaves first. The difference is that the chlorosis starts from the tip and progresses along the ribs of the leaf if nitrogen is deficient, but the chlorosis starts from the tip and progresses along the edge of the leaf if potassium is deficient.

    Blossom End Rot on Tomato
    Blossom End Rot on Tomato. Photo by dmp2024

    Another nutrient that is commonly found deficient is calcium. Typical calcium deficiency symptoms are poor leaf expansion, curling followed by necrotic patches in the young leaves. Calcium deficiency can cause misshapen fruit and aborted buds. If you find the tip of tomatoes or peppers rotting, cavity spot in carrots, and black heart in peanuts and celery, it’s likely the plants are calcium deficient. However, don’t hurry to apply calcium fertilizers. Check on other stresses such as drought because lack of moisture in the soil can lead to insufficient uptake and transportation of calcium within plants, which leads to symptoms similar to calcium deficiency.

    In sandy and low organic matter soils, sulfur deficiency can occur. Typical sulfur deficiency symptoms are reduced growth rate with plants becoming stunted and thin stemmed. In cole crops (such as cabbage, broccoli, etc.), discoloration appears in younger leaves first. Symptoms may include light green or yellow leaves, a reddish coloration on the undersides of leaves as well as leaves that are cupped inward.

    Sulfur deficiency in cabbage.
    Sulfur deficiency in cabbage. Photo by Dr. Haiying Tao

    It is not always easy to identify nutrient deficiencies just by looking at a plant because the symptoms of several deficiencies are similar in appearance. Also, more than one nutrient may be deficient. It is not uncommon for other stresses such as disease, drought, excess water, genetic abnormalities, herbicide and pesticide residue injury, insects or salt injury may cause symptoms that are similar to nutrient deficiency. The best way to confirm if you have nutrient deficiency is to test your soil and plant tissue.

    For questions on nutrient management in the garden or farm, feel free to contact the UConn Soil Lab at (860) 486-4271. For all your other gardening questions, contact the UConn Home & Garden Education at (877) 486-6271 or www.homegarden.cahnr, or your local Cooperative Extension Center.

    Dr. Tao is an Assistant Professor and Soil Fertility Specialist in the UConn Department of Plant Science & Landscape Architecture.

    Alluring African Violets Chosen as 2024 Houseplant of the Year

    Alluring African Violets Chosen as 2024 Houseplant of the Year
    By Dawn Pettinelli, UConn Home & Garden Education Center 

     This last decade or so has seen a burgeoning interest in houseplants. While this has led to the introduction of some new and exciting species, classic stalwarts are still in demand as evidenced by the National Garden Bureau naming African violet the 2024 Houseplant of the Year. They are from Africa, as their name implies, but they are not related to the violets we commonly encounter in our gardens. These plants were discovered in the mountainous regions of Tanzania and Kenya where they grew in shady, rocky locations.  

     The first person to successfully send plant material back to Germany where it eventually reached the Royal Botanic Gardens at Herrenhausen was Captain Baron Walter Saint Paul in 1892. This new species of plant was placed in the Gesneriad family and given the Latin name, Saintpaulia ionantha. A number of additional species were described over the next half century. More recently, after DNA analysis, African violets were put in the genus, Streptocarpus 

     Regardless of their classification, African violets are endearing plants showering their caretakers with an almost continuous parade of blossoms if properly taken care of. Maybe the most difficult part of growing African violets is deciding which ones to grow. They can be found as miniature, standard, and trailing varieties and there are thousands of cultivars. In fact, the African Violet Society of America ( has a Master Variety List of over 16,000 recorded species and cultivars.  

     Flower color ranges from white to pink, purple, blue, violet as well as bicolored cultivars. They can be single, double or semi-double, ruffled or picoteed. Leaves can be a handsome green, some with burgundy overtones while others can be variegated or mosaic. Whichever type or cultivar of African violet you choose, care is similar.  

    Pink African Violet
    Photo by dmp2024

     The proper amount of light is key to good flowering. Plants need lots of bright indirect light. East windows are usually ideal as they get morning sun. If only a west or south facing window is available, filter the light with sheers. African violets do exceptionally well under fluorescent or LED lights. Consider artificial lighting if natural light is limited.  

     Temperature is also important. African violets mostly thrive in the same temperatures we do, around 65 to 70 degrees F. Place them where nighttime temperatures do not drop below 55 F. This is more likely to be a problem during cold winters when plants are left too close to windows. Often exposure to cold results in the plant starting to wilt. Daytime highs ideally should not exceed 75 F. 

     When watering your African violets, avoid getting water on the hairy leaves as this may cause spotting. Many African violet enthusiasts choose to water from the bottom. Plants can be grown in special ceramic African violet pots where a well is filled with water, and it keeps the root ball just moistened enough. Plants can also be watered using a watering can with a long narrow spout so water can be directed at the potting mix and not land on the leaves. The potting mix should stay moderately moist at all times but should not be saturated. If watering from the top and excess water drains into a saucer, be sure to empty it. Soggy soils promote crown and stem rots.  

     African violets like a very well-draining potting mix rich in organic matter with an acidic pH. One can purchase specialty mixes for African violets, or a standard soilless commercial potting mix will do. While plants do need to be fertilized during their period of active growth, which is usually spring and summer, note if when repotting the mix you are using already contains fertilizer. If it does, don’t start fertilizing until plants start looking a little light in color. If no fertilizer was added to the potting mix, you can use a half strength liquid fertilizer every 2 weeks or so from mid-March until about mid-October.  

    Plants bloom best when slightly pot-bound. Often the plant can be lifted once a year and then groomed and reset back into its original pot with some fresh potting media or in a slightly larger one. Remove spent flowers to encourage more flower buds to form.  

    Sometimes cyclamen mites, spider mites or root rots can be a problem so pay attention to your plants and see that they are receiving the proper care. Always isolate new plants for 30 days before introducing to your collection.  

    For questions about African violets or if you have any other gardening questions, contact the UConn Home & Garden Education at (877) 486-6271 or www.homegarden.cahnr, or your local Cooperative Extension Center.  

    How to Identify and Treat Salt Damage on Plants

    How to Identify and Treat Salt Damage on Plants
    Laurel Humphrey, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

    From freezing temperatures to blistering winds, the harsh winter elements can pose a challenge for people and plants alike. One common issue many gardeners face during the wintertime is salt damage on plants. While deicing road salts help to ease our troubles by keeping roads, driveways, and sidewalks clear, they only intensify winter damage on the ecosystems and plants nearby. As a country, the U.S. is estimated to apply about 20 million tons of salt per year for public safety on roadways. The most common form of deicing salt used to keep ice from forming on the roads is sodium chloride, or rock salt, which can be very damaging to vegetation. Deicing salts contribute to the damage and dieback of landscape plants each year, however there are steps one can take to identify salt injury and minimize its effects.

    What are Symptoms of Salt Damage in Plants?

    When deicing salts inevitably wash off the roads, they threaten plants both directly through contact with the foliage, as well as indirectly by changing the soil chemistry. In what is known as “spray zone” injury, salt water collects on plant foliage and enters the plant cells directly. This type of salt injury results in discoloration beginning at the margins of the plant and may eventually lead to premature leaf or needle drop. Salt spray can also dry out bud scales, exposing the developing leaves and flower buds to reduce growth later in the spring. Spray zone injury often produces a distinct pattern of damage, where symptoms are restricted to foliage facing the roadside and increase in severity as plants are found closer to the road.

    Another way plants are affected by road salts is when runoff salt water dissolves in the soil and is taken up by plant roots. Within the soil, sodium chloride breaks down into ions that compete with the other nutrients plants need to survive. As a result, plants take in more of the harmful sodium salts and less of the beneficial nutrients they require. Plants tolerate small amounts of salt naturally, but toxic concentrations can result in symptoms of wilting, scorch, and burn. Overall, deicing salt exposure causes symptoms similar to drought and root damage in plants, such as tip browning, bud death, stem dieback, stunted growth, marginal burn and discoloration, and even tree death. These effects may vary depending on the plant species and degree of exposure, with salt applications in late winter thought to be most damaging to plants and less likely to be leached away from roots.

    A row of bushes exhibiting salt damage
    Deicing salt exposure can result in the damage and discoloration of plant foliage along roadsides. Photo courtesy of Joseph LaForest, UGA,

    How can Road Salt Injuries be Managed?

    In order to minimize the harmful effects of road salts and be sure your plants will make it to see a healthy spring, there are some steps you can take to reduce salt injury. One obvious option is to limit the use of road salts when possible, especially near lawns and landscapes. This can be done by mixing salt with other materials such as sand or sawdust to help maintain road traction, as well as choosing other salt options like calcium chloride that are less harmful to plants, although more expensive. Gardeners can also protect their plants from salt damage by covering them with materials like wood or burlap, and being careful to plant salt tolerant species near roads and sidewalks. Trees such as hedge maple, paper birch, and Northern red oak are more tolerant to salt exposure than sensitive species including red maple, boxwood, and Eastern white pine.

    While it is not always possible to prevent salt damage from becoming an issue during the winter months, other management strategies can be used to treat salt injury. If you do identify exposure to salt damage in your landscape, be sure to wash salts off plant foliage as soon as possible. Prevent snow piles, sand, and runoff from building up near sensitive plants, and maintain healthy soil salinity levels through the addition of organic matter. The most effective way to minimize salt damage is by leaching salts away from the plant roots. Apply fresh water often to flush salts down through the soil when the ground is not frozen, and plant roots should be less vulnerable to the toxic effects of road salts.

    Laurel Humphrey is a student employee working with the Plant Diagnostic Lab and Home & Garden Education Center. For questions on road salt or if you have any other gardening questions, contact the UConn Home & Garden Education at (877) 486-6271 or www.homegarden.cahnr, or your local Cooperative Extension Center.