Editor’s note: Kelly R. Jackson’s Garden Corner column has a different format. He takes questions called into his phone recently at the Christian County Extension Office and answers them in the column.
Question. Can I start pruning my fruit trees?
Answer. While dormant season is normally a good time to prune all woody plants, including fruit trees, this winter has not been very normal. The unusually warm weather of December is forecast to remain warm, upwards to 70 degrees, through Christmas.
When the temperatures do turn cold, it could happen rather quickly. Tom Priddy, Director of the UK Ag Weather Center, said that in December 2013, in western Kentucky, temperatures dropped 61 degrees from a high of 74 to a low of 13 degrees F over a 3-day period. Other weather fluctuations like this one are not uncommon.
According to Dr. Dave Lockwood, University of Tennessee fruit specialist, if fruit trees do not have enough consistently cold weather to trigger dormancy, the plant will be less able to tolerate cold extremes. Even if fruit trees were sold as hardy to -20 degrees F, it is assumed that the tree is fully dormant and that the temperatures leading up the cold event are consistently low and the duration of the cold event is relatively short.
But when the temperatures take a sudden drop, plants may be damaged at temperatures well above their hardiness zone. The flip side to this issue is a condition called deacclimation where a fully dormant plant will start to loose hardiness with warm temperatures. A series of warm days can start to bring trees out of dormancy which will greatly compound winter injury if temperatures take a sudden dip.
Therefore, delaying pruning until just before spring is advisable. Flower buds which were developed this summer can be checked for mortality allowing you to make a better decision on pruning and fruit thinning practices.
Q. I’ve seen basil-in-a-can products sold locally. Will that actually grow?
A. Yes, it should. Basil will grow indoors provided it has a bright sunny windowsill and continual light fertilization of a balanced fertilizer as you start to harvest the leaves. Too much fertilizer however will result in poor flavor.
Whether you purchase a ready-to-go basil kit or a package of seed and container of your own, keep the growing medium warm (around 70 F) and moist through germination. Seedlings are very sensitive to low moisture and cool temperatures. Herbs that are looking thin and spindly or producing smaller leaves are not getting enough light. Try placing the herbs 6 to 12 inches from two 40 watt, cool florescent bulbs for 14 to 16 hours per day.
If pests like aphids or mealybugs appear, use a soapy solution of 1 to 2 tablespoons of mild dish soap in one gallon of warm water to spray the leaves. Check the plant often for insects.
Other herbs you may consider for growing indoors this winter include mint, bay, rosemary, tyme, lemon balm and tarragon. All of these could be transplanted into the garden once the danger of frost has past in the spring.
Kelly R. Jackson is the Christian County Extension Agent for horticulture. He can be reached at 270-886-6328 or visit Christian County Horticulture online at www.christiancountyextension.com.