Storm Damaged Landscape Immediate Help

Storms inflict significant damage to gardens and landscapes across Nebraska each year. Initial reactions to storm damage can be overwhelming when trying to decide what steps to take to start the recovery process. Here are some simple tips to help find a place to start in the recovery process to reduce further damage to the landscape and anyone who is helping in the process.

  1. Locate your utility lines on your property. Are any of them down and present a safety hazard? If there is any doubt that utility lines are down and others could accidentally be harmed, call the utility companies for all to be inspected and repaired before cleaning up landscape damage.
  2. Inspect trees from a distance to see if any broken and hanging branches and limbs are found in the canopies. If these are present, do not work under those areas to avoid a limb or branch falling and severely hurting someone picking up debris.
  3. Beware of tree trimming services that suddenly appear after a storm that are not from the local area. These individuals follow storm damaged areas, trying to sell their services. Many times, these individuals do poor quality work, do not carry liability insurance, do not have a license to work in specific towns, and can cost homeowners dearly from poor quality work, high expense, and potential accidents on personal property.
  4. When considering tree service work to clean up storm damaged trees, always do some background research before hiring. Ask about previous tree service experience in the area, if workers have attended arborist training, possess liability insurance in case of an accident on personal property, and have a license to work in specific communities if it is required by local village governments.
  5. Trees should be removed if they have been blown over, have severely damaged trunks or half of the canopy’s branches are broken.
  6. Remove dead or broken branches if it can be done safely without the help of a tree service. Remove branches at the branch collar, not leaving stubs behind.
  7. On smaller trees and shrubs, cut off broken or bent branches and stems with a sharp bypass hand pruner above the closest undamaged node. Stake small trees and shrubs as needed for no more than one year after the storm event.
  8. Allow the leaves and blooms to fall off of herbaceous plants naturally. Rake up fallen plant material after they fall. If vegetable garden plants are severely damaged, replace with new transplants or re-seed crops as needed.
  9. Do not fertilize any plant material after a storm. Plant material will need to recover before even considering fertilizing again.
  10. Mulch under trees, shrubs and in flower beds to help reduce grass and weed competition for moisture and nutrients. Do not mulch right at the base of plants. Mulch under trees and shrubs no deeper than three inches. Do not mulch more than two inches deep in flower beds and gardens.
  11. Keep soils moist and not soggy during this growing season to reduce moisture stress in the entire landscapes.
  12. Be patient and watch for further damage to landscape plants or secondary pests and diseases that may arise on damaged plant material. Being patient will probably be one of the most difficult aspects of the recovery process.

Storm damage to landscape plants will vary in severity from property to property. Recommendations may vary due to the plant material and the type of damage it received.

If anyone has any questions about responding to storm damage to gardens and landscapes, please contact me by sending an email message to, by following my Nebraska Gardener blog at or by calling my office at (308) 696-6781.

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David Lott is the Horticulture Extension Educator with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in North Platte, Nebraska.

Extension is a Division of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln cooperating with the Counties and the United States Department of Agriculture.

University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension educational programs abide with the nondiscrimination policies of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and the United States Department of Agriculture.






Responding to Late Freeze Damage to Vegetable Gardens

A late freeze in May is never positive news, let alone after a challenging winter that Nebraskans have endured this year. This morning, the temperature dropped down to 27 degrees Fahrenheit in North Platte, causing considerable damage to vegetable gardens and flowers.

Several factors will impact freeze damage. The actual temperature and duration of the temperature will be the most important. Location of plant material on protected areas, wide open areas, on slopes, in low spots and upland areas will also impact the severity of a freeze. Putting these factors together requires gardeners to observe specific locations where impacted material is located.

Vegetables are one of the first questions that many gardeners will ask about. When temperatures dip down to the mid 20s, many vegetables will not survive temperatures that cold. As the day warms up after a freeze, foliage and plant parts will start to show a water-soaked appearance. This damaged plant material will start to quickly break down and die off.

Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and eggplant are severely damaged at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. For those gardeners who planted these crops already, the damaged will become noticeable very quickly or fatal. These severely damaged plants probably will not produce very much over the gardening season. Severely damaged and dead plant material should be removed.

Before replacing these plants, it is important to harden these plants by placing them outside in a protected area and brought in at night for a couple weeks. This process will acclimate tender transplant vegetables to reduce plant shock when they are finally planted in the ground or in a container.

Rhubarb is another crop that gardeners will ask about related to frost damage and toxicity. Freeze damaged leaves and stems will become soft and turn black. Remove these damaged examples with a sharp, sterile knife down to the base of the plant. If stalks appear to be frost damaged, simply remove them to avoid any chance of possible toxicity that can enter stalks from the leaves. Rhubarb leaves do contain oxalic acid, which is moderately toxic. This part of the plant is not eaten anyway, and needs to be discarded.

Early season crops such as radishes, peas, lettuce, cabbage, potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, and similar crops are going to be more tolerant of a freeze. These crops may have been spared depending on the factors that I have already discussed. Michigan State University Extension has compiled a very helpful set of descriptions of freeze damage on a variety of vegetable crops.  General freeze damage temperature levels for frost tender, moderately frost tender and frost hardy crops are also included. This resource can be downloaded and viewed at for anyone to print and keep for future reference.

Directly seeded warm season crops, including cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, squash and okra should not have been planted yet since the soil has not warmed up to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. If these crops have been planted, they may not germinate. If these crops have germinated, severe damage of seedling death will not be uncommon. These crops will probably need to be replanted. For a complete listing of vegetable crops and their minimum soil temperature for directly seeding vegetable crops or planting transplant vegetables, refer to this University of California Extension table at to view or download. The optimal growing temperature and maximum growing temperature is also listed for each crop as a quality reference to keep from year to year.

A soil thermometer is one of the best resources for gardeners when deciding plant  vegetable crops. This reasonably priced tool can be purchased at hardware stores, garden centers, retail stores or online. For those who do not care to purchase a soil thermometer or need immediate soil temperature data, the UNL Cropwatch website updates soil temperature across Nebraska. This resource can be found at to find the seven day average for a number of locations to help make informed planting decisions based on soil temperature.

As with all decision making, consider all these factors related to freeze damage, damage characteristics by crop, hardening vegetable transplants, and minimum soil temperatures to plant various vegetable crops. Each of these factors are important, and are combined together to help gardeners make informed decisions for best results.

If anyone has any questions about understanding the information on a seed packet, feel free to contact me by sending an email message to, by following my Nebraska Gardener blog at or by calling my office at (308) 696-6781.

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David Lott is the Horticulture Extension Educator with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in North Platte, Nebraska.

Extension is a Division of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln cooperating with the Counties and the United States Department of Agriculture.

University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension educational programs abide with the nondiscrimination policies of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and the United States Department of Agriculture.





Assess Landscape Sites Now for Spring Planning!

Are you dreaming of making some changes to your landscape? Is it time to change the mix of plant material, contend with an area where plants are not thriving or changing a hardscape structure such as a patio or walkway? Now is the good time to assess landscapes during winter to create a plan for the upcoming growing season!

This winter has kept many people inside due to the weather, and now is a perfect time to take a close look at the home landscape. Leaves are gone from deciduous trees, shrubs and plants, providing a less obstructive view right now. A more open view of the landscape can help gardeners and homeowners see the landscape with less obstruction, possibly generating ideas for the future that would be more difficult to realize when plant material is in full foliage during the growing season.

In simple terms, landscape site assessment comes down to what features are present in the landscape now, and what elements are desired in the future. Starting now allows for identifying features of the landscape, and time to create goals for the future. Once warmer weather arrives, a plan can be in place to start working on those landscape goals.

Here are some simple landscape site assessment concepts to consider and follow in planning for your landscape’s future from Iowa State University Extension.

  • Create a basic drawing of the property with buildings, roads or streets marked. Orient this basic map, denoting north, south, east and west sides of the property. This information can impact the light exposure and shadows cast from buildings that will impact plant selection.
  • Mark slopes and low areas on the property that will impact the selection and maintenance of plant material, utilizing slopes and potential microclimates.
  • Mark the approximate location of all major plant features on the drawing, including trees, shrubs, landscape beds and gardens.
  • What are the drainage patterns of water away from homes and other buildings on the property? Which directions do they go from these buildings? Are there low areas that tend to collect moisture?
  • Mark where doors, windows, walkways, porches, patios, and where different rooms are located in homes and outbuildings.
  • Draw the approximate location of septic tanks, leach fields and underground utility power lines. Do not guess on their location. Contact your local utility company for their location, especially before excavating ground to start a new project!
  • Identify the views from homes and outbuildings to accentuate areas to plan for views from features such as picture windows, porches, balconies, and patios. Are there areas that need to be noted for screening or privacy, such as bathrooms and bedrooms?
  • Are there undesirable or obstructed views due to plant material or permanent structures that need to be altered? Should the view be altered by removing plant material or changing the design around permanent structures?

These basic questions are just a starting point for landscape site assessment. For more information on homeowner landscape assessment, refer to the Home Landscape Planning Worksheet: 12 Steps to a Functional Design by Ann Marie VanDerZanden at to download and print a free copy.

If anyone has any questions about understanding the information on landscape site assessment, feel free to contact me by sending an email message to, by following my Nebraska Gardener blog at or by calling my office at (308) 696-6781.

Understanding Information on Seed Packets

Spring is just around the corner! Many gardeners and nature lovers are eagerly awaiting warmer weather, and the chance to work and enjoy the outdoors again. One of the signs that the gardening season is on its way is the appearance of garden seed displays retail stores, nurseries and garden centers. Many of us also subscribe to the many seed company catalogs or shop for seed online.

While many of us fawn over the many options available, we need to be able to read and understand the information on the seed packet to correctly understand the growing needs for different plants that will be raised.

Correct interpretation of this material helps gardeners to select seeds that will turn into plants that will fill garden space with the vegetables and flowers we want that match the growing environment that is available to be raised in. As with all plants that we raise in containers to traditional garden plots, we need to match the right plant with the right growing environment.

Let us look at the following six vital factors that everyone needs to know and understand to make those correct selections in the first place.

  • Seed Count – The number, size and weight of seed will vary, depending on the crop that is being purchased. Many packets will include the approximate number of seeds in each. This factor is important since it can impact the number of packets that will be purchased for the desired number of plants that will be sown in the area available to grow in. Some seed will be planted fairly thick, and thinned out after germination. Some gardeners will also purchase extra for extra plantings later in the season, and store the remainder for the next year.
  • Plant Height – The mature height and spread of the mature plants will be on the packet. Ideally, mature plant foliage should be able to be close to touch or slightly overlapping. This information will help gardeners decide how to space and plant seed in the area that is available to grow in.
  • Light – The light needs for efficient growth will vary, depending on the crop being selected. Full sun recommendations refer to six hours of direct light. Partial sun refers to four hours of direct sunlight where the plants will be grown. Shade loving plants will prefer indirect or filtered light. Most vegetable crops will require six hours of direct, full sunlight to mature and produce to full potential.
  • When to Sow and Days to Maturity- A number of days will be listed on the packet on days to maturity. The key factor is finding the correct soil temperature that will decide when to plant various crops. Soil thermometers can be purchased at gardens centers. Updated soil temperature data is also posted on the UNL Cropwatch website to help make those planting decisions. Once the seven day average soil temperature is reached for the target crop, it is a good time to plant then. This excellent resource can be found at for future reference. If seed is being sown for a fall garden, count the days of maturity back from the last average frost date. For more information on fall gardening, refer the Fall NebGuide found at for future reference.
  • Planting Depth – The correct planting depth of key to provide the growing environment, soil temperature and the amount of light needed to penetrate the soil to germinate seeds. If a depth is not provided, multiply the size of the seed by two to calculate depth. Very small and very fine seed can be scattered on the top of a firm seed bed, with mist being applied a couple times a day. A fine layer of vermiculite may be used with fine and small seed to help keep the seed from moving around, and to maintain moisture for germination.
  • Plant Spacing – Spacing seed for growth has been calculated for the mature height and width of plants as they grow their full size, with some slight foliage overlap. Thinning or removing small seedlings that have been planted too close to each other is a wise strategy to avoid plant overcrowding and leggy growth, resulting in reduced plant growth potential.

As with all decision making, consider all these factors together when selecting and growing plants from seed. Each of these factors are important, and are combined together to help gardeners make informed decisions for best results for growing conditions will be provided.

If anyone has any questions about understanding the information on a seed packet, feel free to contact me by sending an email message to, by following my Nebraska Gardener blog at or by calling my office at (308) 696-6781.

Master Gardener Classes Starting January 29th online and in North Platte!

Are you yearning for spring and the growing season? Beat the winter doldrums by attending Nebraska Extension Master Gardener classes starting Tuesday, January 29 in North Platte in person at the UNL West Central Research and Extension Center at 402 W. State Farm Road, or delivered online to citizens in surrounding counties who do not have a Horticulture Extension Educator.

Gardening enthusiasts can participate by attending individual classes without extra commitment to the program. Participants can enjoy attending the classes of their choice to increase their personal horticultural knowledge. Topics will be finalized in the next week, and you can contact myself or the Extension Office in North Platte for those details. Here is a list of the 2019 class dates.

January 29 – Orientation – Review 2018 MG Exam

February 5          – Master Gardener’s Role with UNL

February 12        – Wildlife in the Landscape

February 19        – Weather Ready Landscaping

February 26        – Secrets of Customer Service for Master Gardeners

March 5 –             – Small Space Vegetable Gardening

March 12             – Decoding Latin Plant Names

March 19             – Judging Vegetable Exhibits for Fairs

March 26             – Judging Floral Exhibits for Fairs

April 2                   – Pesticide Safety for Master Gardeners

April 16                 – Abiotic Tree Disorders

April 23                 – Houseplant Care, Selection and Species


September 10   – Dividing Perennials

September 17   – Master Gardener Hour Reporting System

September 24   – Vegetable Insect Identification and Management

October 1            – Ornamental Insect Identification and Management

October 8            – Iris Management and Care

October 15          – Managing Turfgrass Fertility

October 22          – Landscape Planning for the Next Year

October 26          – Using Hotcaps and Cold frames

Please register at the Lincoln-Logan-McPherson Extension Office by calling

(308) 532-2683, indicating which classes each participant will attend by Tuesday, January 29. Please arrive at 6:15 p.m., Central Standard Time. All classes will start promptly at 6:30 p.m.

Individuals who would like to participate in the entire workshop series and become a Nebraska Extension Master Gardener may register for the entire series for $10 each. This mg brochure 2019 also includes the $175 registration includes the Master Gardener manuals, state dues, an official Master Gardener shirt and name badge.

Along with training, new Master Gardener trainees participate in group volunteer projects established by the local Master Gardener program in your county of residence. Forty hours of education and 40 hours of volunteer service is required within the first two years of training to receive initial Master Gardener certification. This requirement is easily reached by participating in the group’s activities, as well as approved individual activities that a Master Gardener may want to carry out on their own.

Returning and lapsed Master Gardeners who have completed the initial first-year training may attend all of the 2019 programs for a $20 individual one-time fee. Twenty hours of volunteer service and attendance at completion of 10 hours of classes is required to retain Master Gardener certification.

If you have any questions about the Nebraska Extension Master Gardener program or the topics for 2019, please contact me by sending an e-mail message to, by calling the Lincoln-Logan-McPherson Extension Office at (308) 532-2683, or by contacting your local Nebraska Extension Office.

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David Lott is the Horticulture Extension Educator with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in North Platte, Nebraska.

Extension is a Division of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln cooperating with the Counties and the United States Department of Agriculture.

Potato Planting Demonstration May 1st in North Platte!

Are you ready to do some gardening? Come out to the West Central Research and Extension, 402 W. State Farm Road in North Platte to learn more about planting and raising potatoes at 6:00 p.m., Central Time, on May 1st.

Upon entering the grounds of the West Central Research and Extension Center, please follow the signs to the teaching and demonstration vegetable garden south of the Lincoln-Logan-McPherson County Extension Office. Parking near the plot will be available for participants.

David Lott, Nebraska Extension District Horticulture Educator, and area Extension Master Gardeners are raising a teaching and demonstration vegetable garden to test vegetable varieties, and donating produce to the Grace Ministries Food Pantry in North Platte as part of the Cultivating Health Our Way (CHOW) grant program through the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension. The goal of the grant is help food pantry recipients have access to fresh produce, and prepare it in a nutritional manner in conjunction with the Nebraska Extension Nutrition Education Program (NEP).

While raising and donating produce for the grant is one of the goals of the vegetable garden at the West Central Research and Extension Center, the teaching and demonstration is a living laboratory for the public to learn about various aspects of vegetable gardening throughout the garden season in western Nebraska. From beginning to longtime gardeners, there will be something for everyone to learn by participating in hands-on demonstrations throughout the garden season.

Cool soil temperatures and unpredictable weather has slowed down garden planting, but the potatoes are ready to be planted now. Potatoes are a staple vegetable in a Nebraskan’s diet, and how better to learn about raising potatoes than watching and maybe helping plant potatoes in the teaching garden in person?

More hands-on demonstrations will be taught at the teaching and demonstration garden throughout the gardening season. Don’t miss out on future opportunities as they arise to have fun and learn!

For more information about gardening in central and western Nebraska, contact David Lott, District Horticulture Educator, by following my blog, Western Nebraska Gardener, at Gardeners can also contact me via email at, or by calling my office at (308) 696-6781. Please leave a message if I do not answer. All calls are forwarded to me when I am out of the office!











Don’t guess. Test soil temperatures before planting vegetables!

Is it ever going to warm up this spring? This is the most common question that I receive from gardeners and customers that call into the Extension Offices in central and western Nebraska. Slowly but surely, the weather is warming up. Along with warming air temperatures, our soil temperature is warming up too. This is key to the timing of planting vegetable crops for success.

While retail stores have had vegetable seeds for a while and soon vegetable transplants, the weather and the soil temperatures have not been favorable for planting a number of vegetable crops in the ground. Planting in soil temperatures that are too cool will lead to poor seed germination and stunted plants that will not produce to their full potential during the growing season. This is going to be especially true for tomato, pepper, and vine crops that do not tolerate cool soil temperatures or even a light freeze.

One of the most valuable gardening tools in my opinion is the soil temperature thermometer. They are easily purchased at garden centers or online from supply catalogs at a reasonable price. They can be used for years if they are kept clean and in good repair. For that reasonable price, these handy tools can track when the soil temperature is ready for growing vegetable crops, or other applications such as when to apply pre-emergent herbicides on the home lawn.

How do soil thermometers work, and how does a person use it correctly track soil temperatures? First, decide when to record soil temperatures. It is crucial to use the same time each day test the soil temperature in the area where it is desired. To gain a more informed idea of soil temperature, it is important to test the soil for four consecutive days at the same time. Here is a picture of the soil thermometer that I used to test the soil temperature at the West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte, on April 5, 2018.

The next crucial step is to follow the instructions on the soil thermometer completely to gather a valid reading. A number of soil thermometers will require the instrument to be shoved into the ground in the same place for three to four inches deep, and waiting at least five minutes before taking the reading. After repeating this process at the same time of day, over a series of days according to the thermometer directions, a valid soil temperature reading can be obtained. After writing down the soil temperature reading for four or more days, some decisions can be made on when to wait or plant a crop based off that series of soil temperatures. Did the soil temperature vastly fluctuate during that four day span of data? Are the soil temperatures fairly consistent or exactly the same? If these temperature readings are consistent, and meet the minimum soil temperature for the intended vegetable crop, it is time to plant based off of soil temperatures.

For the sake of simplicity, there are a few vegetable crop groupings that use similar soil temperatures. According to Oregon State University Extension, here are those groupings:

  • 40 Degree Fahrenheit Plant Grouping – These vegetable crops include arugula, fava beans, kale, lettuce, pak choi, parsnips, peas, radicchio, radishes and spinach seed.
  • 50 Degree Fahrenheit Plant Grouping – These vegetable crops include Chinese cabbage, leeks, onions, Swiss chard, and turnips.
  • 60 Degree Fahrenheit Plant Grouping – These vegetable crops include beans, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots and cauliflower. Do be careful with planting beans since they are prone to be damaged by a freeze.
  • 70 Degree Fahrenheit Plant Grouping – These vegetable crops include tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, squash, corn and melons. These crops are very prone to a light freeze, and may take a while to germinate even when the soil is at this temperature.

For more information on vegetable crops and soil temperatures, please refer to the full article from Oregon State University at: for specific information.

For those gardeners who do not access to a garden soil thermometer, the Nebraska Extension Crop Watch website does track soil temperatures across Nebraska. Simply click on the website at and scroll down the page to find a soil temperature testing station close to your location.

Don’t guess, test that soil temperature before you plant in the garden! For more information about vegetable gardening in central and western Nebraska, contact David Lott, District Horticulture Educator, by following my blog, Western Nebraska Gardener, at Gardeners can also contact me via email at, or by calling my office at (308) 696-6781. Please leave a message if I do not answer. All calls are forwarded to me when I am out of the office!











Struggling with Heat in the Garden

These last few weeks have been a major challenge for gardeners and homeowners with the hot and dry conditions. Many of us just expect this from the “dog days” of summer, but large areas of western Nebraska have been struggling with no rain for long stretches of time.

Rain or no rain, gardeners and homeowners need to pay attention to the needs of garden, container and landscape plants in the landscape. It is easy for time to pass during the day and forget to water plant material. Forgetting even for one day at this time can be devastating to plant material.

Here are some simple suggestions to share on watering and reducing plant stress in the garden and landscape to keep plant material alive and thriving.

  • Water container gardens with a slow, gentle stream of water until the container is completely watered, and water starts to escape the containers.
  • Check the moisture level of container gardens, large and small, every day. Never assume that moisture levels are adequate without checking. Containers made out of pottery will allow moisture to escape out the sides. Their watering needs will be different than plastic material containers.
  • Water plants in containers and garden beds at their base to reduce evaporation loss, increase water infiltration into the soil, and reduce the movement of bacteria that can promote various forms of blight in vegetable and ornamental plants.
  • Consistent soil moisture levels are key to avoid blossom end rot in tomatoes and peppers. Avoid letting the soil to dry out, or become soggy wet.
  • As vegetables grow larger and establish themselves, they will need more water to set blossoms, and lay down produce. Avoid letting these plants to become limp, wilt, or dry up.
  • Check your lawn sprinkler systems to see if they are actually putting down the water evenly across each zone by placing empty tuna cans or shallow dishes in the zone to collect the water. Is enough water being applied? Are all the sprinkler heads in good repair, and spraying where they need to be applying water?
  • Speaking of enough water being applied by sprinkler, here is an easy trick to find if enough water is being applied. Shove a hand trowel in the the lawn. Pull the handle toward you. Look down at the root zone of the lawn. Is the water penetrating 1/2 inch below the end of the root zone? If not, more irrigation is needed.
  • Longer, more infrequent lawn irrigation times help promote the root system to go deeper in the soil than short, daily irrigation.
  • The standard mowing height recommendation for bluegrass and tall fescue is three inches tall for the entire growing season for western Nebraska.
  • When mowing all types of lawn turf, including bluegrass, tall fescue or buffalograss, mow off no more than one-third of the top of the lawn at one mowing. Two thirds of the turf should be left behind to grow.
  • Watering trees and meeting the water needs of tree are different than lawns. Do not assume that watering the lawn with the sprinkler system is adequate. Shove a long screwdriver, rod or steak into the ground. Can it be shoved into 12 inches of moist soil under the canopy and just beyond the drip line? If not, more water in needed. In the first 12 inches of soil, many fibrous, water absorbing roots pull moisture. This first 12 inches needs to be hydrated.
  • Water trees with a slow, soaking watering under the canopy and out a little past the drip line in all directions with a soaker hose, hose end water bubbler or short spray sprinklers to place the water right on the ground in a gentle application.
  • Shove the screwdriver or rod in the ground at least 12 or so times where water was applied to see if the water has infiltrated 12 inches deep. If the water is infiltrating this deep all the way around under the tree canopy and dripline, the tree is being watered to help meet the needs of trees, beyond the shallow, three to four inch deep watering needs of turfgrass. Deep water trees every two to three weeks during these very dry times.
  • Mulch flower beds, garden beds, and under tree canopies to help avoid extra moisture loss, keep the soil cooler, and keep mowers and weed whips away from damaging plant material.

Photo credit: Efficient Use of Water in the Garden and Landscape, Texas AgriLife Extension, Texas A&M University.

If you have any further questions, please send an email to, or call my office at 308-696-6781. If the phone goes to voicemail, please leave one. My message transfer to my cell phone when I am away from my desk!



Aphids! Aphids! Aphids!

I have received a number of calls and pictures of distorted damage from aphids feeding on ornamental plants and tree leaves. Seeing white, sticky masses will definitely get a person’s attention when they see it for the first time.

Aphids are small insects, no larger than 1/8 inch, with oval bodies, and two distinct cornicles that protrude out of the back end of their bodies, informally referred to “tailpipes” among gardeners and entomologists.

Sucking sap out of leaves through their mouthparts is where these insects cause damage to ornamental plants and trees. Leaves and blossoms can become distorted when a number of aphids start feeding in the same area on the host plant.

The sticky part that people notice on their car windshields, walkways, and patio furniture is known as “honeydew.” This is actually excrement from the feeding aphids. Honeydew is annoying to homeowners, but is little more than an inconvenience that needs to be cleaned off vehicles and outdoor furniture.

If you see a mass of aphids together feeding, you may see a buildup of honeydew and a wool-like structure. Most have one cycle per year. Leaves may also be curled too. Unroll these leaves, and you will probably see the various growth stages of aphid development as well.

There are many different sub species of aphids around in the region, so aphids may look different from each other, but do have similar feeding habits that can impact plants, concerning gardeners and homeowners.

So what can be done about these pests? This is the bottom line for gardeners when these pests arrive in the area, distorting flower blossoms and ornamental plant leaves.

First, there are a number of natural enemies of aphids that gladly feed on aphids. These beneficial insects include lady beetle larvae, green lacewings, flower flies, and tiny beneficial wasps. If the aphid population isn’t overwhelming, these beneficial insects wipe out a number of aphids. If the aphid population explodes, which can happen, damage may be more obvious on plant material.

For those interested in other forms of control, insecticides are available to control infestations in the form of contact insecticides labeled for aphids directly applied to exposed aphids. These insecticides are not as effective on leaf-rolling aphids. Some systemic insecticides, labeled for aphids, can be use to help control the leaf-rolling type of aphids.

Horticultural oil is another viable option for aphid control. This product smothers aphids that come in contact with the product. It also works fairly well to smother aphids that hatch in the spring that overwinter as eggs on plant material. This product is also used on fruit trees prior to bud break on fruit trees, so this product can be used for other uses in the garden and landscape.

For more information about aphid feeding on ornamental plants and trees, refer to the following Colorado State University Extension’s “Aphids on Shade Trees and Ornamentals” by Whitney Cranshaw.



Starting a new chapter…

As I reflect on what I notice in the environment and the questions that gardeners and homeowners ask, I have decided it is time to set up a blog to reach people across western Nebraska and beyond.

Just like a conversation with a friend over a cup of coffee, I am excited to share current gardening and landscape information that show up from Extension Office and individual request in an easy-to-understand format.

From insect pests and diseases to landscape maintenance ideas to selecting gardening plants and how to safely prepare and preserve the bounty of the harvest, many topics will be showing up on this friendly forum.

When you have a question, please contact me by calling my office number at 308-696-6781, or sending an email message to to reach me. If I am away from my office phone, please leave a message. Your messages will be forwarded to me while I am on the road.

I look forward to sharing our gardening and landscape joys and frustrations today and into the future!


David Lott