HGEC Newspaper Articles

The UConn Home & Garden Center's horticultural consultants and affiliate staff write a weekly column in The ChronicleRead our previous articles below.


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 arborday.org

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 arborday.org

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 http://www.homegarden.cahnr.uconn.edu/ or your local Cooperative Extension Center.


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: https://garden.org/apps/frost-dates/. 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: https://mastergardener.uconn.edu/2024/01/30/garden-journals-available/.

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 (www.selectseeds.com), the Chas. C. Hart Seed Co. (www.hartseed.com), the Heirloom Market at Comstock Ferre selling Baker’s Creek Heirloom Seeds (www.heirloommkt.com), John Scheppers Kitchen Garden Seeds (www.kitchengardenseeds.com), and New England Seed Company (www.neseeds.com). 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 www.homegarden.cahnr.uconn.edu 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- https://connecticutbarns.org/state-register. 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 www.homegarden.cahnr.uconn.edu 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 www.homegarden.cahnr.uconn.edu or your local Cooperative Extension Center.

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,uconn.edu 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 (www.africanvioletsocietyofamerica.org) 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,uconn.edu 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, Bugwood.org.

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,uconn.edu or your local Cooperative Extension Center.


2024 All-American Selections

2024 All American Selection Winners
By Dawn Pettinelli, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

As we usher in the New Year, garden enthusiasts and horticulturists alike eagerly anticipate the unveiling of the All-America Selections (AAS) winners for 2024. The AAS is a prestigious organization that annually recognizes outstanding new varieties of flowers, vegetables, and herbs that have proven their excellence through rigorous trials. Trial gardens were established throughout the United States and even as far north as Canada. New varieties, species or strains of annuals, vegetables and bedding plants are grown and evaluated based on their performance. Two vegetables and 5 flowers were chosen as national winners this year. Those selected as winners are outstanding plants and deserve a trial in your gardens as well.

Broccoli ‘Purple Magic F1’ takes center stage among the vegetable winners. With its striking purple hue and exceptional taste, this broccoli variety is a standout choice for home gardeners. This easy to grow variety is tolerant to heat and stress with tight uniform heads on 30-inch tall plants. Plants should be spaced about 2 feet apart and harvests can begin about 90 days after transplant. Beyond its visual appeal, ‘Purple Magic F1’ offers a nutritious addition to meals, providing both beauty and health benefits to your garden and table.

Broccoli 'Purple Magic'
Broccoli ‘Purple Magic F1’ from https://all-americaselections.org/

For those seeking a vibrant addition to their vegetable patch, sweet pepper ‘Red Impact’ is a true gem. ‘Red Impact’ is a Lamuyo type that are typically difficult to grow because of the long time it takes these large peppers to mature to red. The 7-inch long, sweet crispy fruits have thick skins and can be harvested red or green. Plants reach up to 3 feet in height and since there can be 10 to 15 peppers per plant, staking is recommended. The dark red, uniform fruits mature in 90 days from transplant. ‘Red Impact’ is resistant to a number of diseases including tobacco mosaic virus.

In the realm of flowers, ‘Burning Embers’ celosia captures attention with its vibrant pink blooms that contrast well with its striking pink veined bronze foliage. This well-branched, vibrantly colored celosia will add drama and flair to gardens and containers. The very long-lasting flowers hold up well through periods of heat and humidity. The 8 to 9-inch plants can be spaced a foot apart in garden beds and used as edging or massed in groups. No staking or deadheading is necessary. Blooming from late spring through frost, makes ‘Burning Embers’ a standout choice for those looking to infuse outdoor spaces with bold colors and distinctive shapes.

Celosia 'Burning Embers'
Celosia ‘Burning Embers’ from https://all-americaselections.org

Geranium lovers rejoice. ‘Big EEZE Pink Batik’ is a true show stopper with its large, eye-catching pink blooms that are streaked and spotted with darker pink markings in a batik-like pattern. Upright 18-inch plants are very floriferous with 4 to 5-inch flower clusters. Deadhead to encourage continuous flowering throughout the growing season. Plants do especially well in containers and are vigorous and heat tolerant.

Impatiens ‘Solarscape XL Pink Jewel’ lives up to its name offering an abundance of vibrant pink blooms that will add sparkle to any garden or container. The foot high plants spread out to almost 20 inches so give them room to grow. The single pink blossoms open to almost 3 inches across. Plants do great in containers or in the ground and no staking or deadheading is needed. ‘Solarscape XL Pink Jewel’ will do well in sun to part shade as long as regularly watered. Gardeners will be glad to know plants are resistant to impatiens downy mildew.

With its vibrant, fully double, golden blooms and compact growth habit, marigold ‘Siam Gold F1’ is a reliable choice for borders, edging, or as a cheerful addition to mixed plantings. The 3 to 4-inch blooms are held high and continue throughout until frost if deadheaded. Staking is not needed for the sturdy 20-inch-tall plants that are tolerant of heat, drought and rain. Use the flowers in arrangements to bring a golden glow indoors. Plants are easily started from seed directly sown in the garden after the last frost date or can be started 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost date indoors. Its ability to thrive in diverse conditions makes it a go-to option for gardeners seeking low-maintenance yet stunning floral displays.

The final national winner, Petchoa ‘En Viva Pink’, represents a unique and exciting addition to gardens and containers. This innovative hybrid combines the best qualities of petunias and calibrachoas, resulting in a plant that offers the best of both worlds. Plants are loaded with bright, iridescent pink, 2 to 3-inch, yellow-throated blossoms that stand up to heat, wind and rain. These plants require no staking or dead-heading and at 10 to 16-inches high and wide would be outstanding in hanging baskets, containers or cascading over garden edges.

The 2024 All America Selections national winners represent the pinnacle of horticultural achievement. As we embrace the gardening season ahead, let these national winners inspire and guide your choices for a flourishing and vibrant outdoor space. 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 www.homegarden.cahnr.uconn.edu or contact your local Cooperative Extension center.