As most of you are probably already familiar with, the University of Connecticut is home to the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory. This lab is staffed by Dawn Pettinelli, the manager, and myself, the technician. We also have a few part time and student employees throughout the year that help with the receiving, spreading, and sieving of soil samples; among other things. We offer an array of tests designed to help homeowners, community gardeners, farmers, etc… maximize the efficiency of their soil to produce the greatest yields in whatever plant or crop they are growing, from silage corn to turf. We can test for soil organic matter content, textural fractionation, soluble salts, Nitrogen, and Carbon. We also provide tests for plant tissues and corn stalks. However, our most vital and popular test is the Standard Nutrient Analysis. This is a relatively comprehensive test that allows us to make limestone and fertilizer recommendations. We check the pH, add a buffering agent and then retest the pH. From there we are able to determine the soils capacity to resist the change in pH, this allows us to make an accurate and precise limestone recommendation, in lbs/1000 square feet, or lbs/acre, depending on the desired crop production. The second part of the Standard Nutrient Analysis is the actual nutrient content. Soil samples are analyzed for micro and macro nutrients; Potassium, Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Aluminum, Boron, Copper, Iron, Manganese, Zinc, and Sulfur. Samples are also screened for Lead. Using the nutrient results, we are able to make fertilizer recommendations based on what is being grown. We give results in N-P-K format, and also provide organic alternatives.

We get calls year round from customers asking if they can submit a soil sample, and the answer is always yes! You can submit a soil sample any time of the year, we receive soils from throughout the country (although we have to be careful of areas under certain quarantines). Generally, it only takes around a week from when we receive a sample for us to send out the results. As you might imagine, Spring is an extreme exception. We are so busy and backed up with thousands of soil samples right now, we are expecting a 3 week turn-around time. We understand that everyone is eager to get their hands dirty and work on their lawns and gardens, but waiting until Spring to submit soil samples isn’t the best idea.

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The current line of samples waiting for analysis. J.Croze

We often recommend that customers take and submit soil samples in the Fall! Soil sampling and testing in the Fall is better for all parties involved. For starters, we offer a discount on the Standard Nutrient Analysis, if you submit 10 or more samples we only charge you $8 per sample opposed to $12. However, there are more practical reasons to submit a Fall soil sample. It’s easier! The soil is generally going to be easier to work with in the Fall than after a wet Winter during the first few weeks of Spring. This will help you obtain soil samples that are a more accurate representation of the area you are interested in. Every year around this time we get dozens of zip-lock bags that are filled with soaking wet soil, dripping everywhere. A Fall soil test also allows you more time to think about what amendments you might want to use, and is the perfect time to apply limestone and fertilizers in preparation for a busy and productive growing season. Applying limestone in the Fall ensures that it has enough time to raise your soil pH to whatever the optimum range is for what you plan on growing. My personal favorite reason for submitting a Fall soil sample is that we are less busy! You’ll be happier because your results will only take a few days, and we’ll be happier because the phone won’t be ringing off the hook with customers wondering where their results are! You can obviously submit a sample whenever your heart desires, but I advise you to consider sampling in the Fall. For those of you currently waiting on results, I appreciate your patience! Happy gardening!

-J.Croze

Marsh Marigolds blooming in a stream in early April 2015

Marsh Marigolds blooming in a stream in early April 2015

Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!

Sitting Bull

I always look for marsh marigolds Caltha palustris L., also known as cowslip, along boggy woodland streams, in early April, and they were certainly blooming within the normal time period this year. Last spring they were late arriving, perhaps because of a snowfall in mid- April. Who knows? I am just glad to see them as they are a limpid herald of spring. Bloodroot is also an early bird, and I have some in my garden. But flowers have not opened fully or they close without good sun, so maybe soon we will have less gloomy gray days and I can see the flowers.

bloodroot 2011

Well, spring is trying to get started here in Connecticut and we seem to be on average ten to fifteen days behind normal plant development so far, according to the UMass Landscape Message report for April 24, 2015. After a winter that saw high snowfall over frozen ground, and topped off by continual cold temperatures after a two- day tease of high 60’s a couple of weeks ago, we all need a break from cold, gray days. That should happen soon. Maybe.

Lawns took a big hit this winter and spring from snow molds, voles and soggy soils causing the death of some areas of the lawn. Green up and recovery has been slow as soil temperatures are only in the upper 40’s. Regrowth is spotty at the moment. Of course, grubs are up and at ‘em and have been for a few weeks. Worms are near the surface and so are the moles that eat them. Robins are always a good indicator of the presence of earthworms near the soil surface, and so is mole activity. Vole damage may have killed large areas of lawns, readily seen where they clipped off the tops of the grass while under the protection of snow cover. If crowns were eaten, then raking up the dead material and reseeding will be needed.

vole-and-snow-mold-damage-april-6-2015.jpg

Vole-and-snow-mold-damage-in April from 2015  winter snow cover

 

The time frame between forsythia full bloom and lilac bloom is typically when pre- emergent crabgrass control is applied. Be careful not to be too late or too early. Last year older forsythia cultivars were late and were in full bloom at the same time as lilacs. This year may prove to be similar. Hardy forsythia cultivars are already in full bloom, while the older ones are in sparse to no bloom as of today (April 28, 2015). If that is the case, make sure to apply pre-emergent products before lilacs bloom and some already have leaves and flower buds appearing.

As for the birds- I participate in the Audubon Spring Bird Count every year, which takes place from the last week of April through the first two weeks of May. The idea is to count species during this time frame, so many migratory birds make the count interesting as they pass through on their way north. So far even the birds that breed here are slow in arriving. Got one wood thrush, the first I saw this year, on Saturday. Savannah Sparrows are just arriving here in Storrs, so Bob-o-links and Meadowlarks should arrive soon as well. Pileated Woodpeckers, the Holy Cow! Behemoths that are here all year, are regular visitors to my backyard woods. Last week I was able to get a shot of a male and female on the same tree. How often does that happen?

Savannah Sparrow on Horsebarn Hill, Storrs April 28, 2015

Savannah Sparrow on Horsebarn Hill, Storrs April 28, 2015

Male and female Pileated Woodpeckers in my backyard woods

Male and female Pileated Woodpeckers in my backyard woods

Hummingbirds have been spotted in southern areas of Connecticut, so get ready with hummingbird feeders. Usually they arrive as apples are blooming or the early Azalea cultivars. Keep in mind that hummingbirds eat insects as well, and often can be seen in the woods, especially around oaks because these trees attract many insects. So the hummers will not starve if you are late with your feeders.

Bluebirds have built their nests already, or at least have picked out a good nesting spot. If you have a large open area near woods where you know bluebirds live, but have trouble with sparrows consistently taking over any house you may put up, consider putting up two or three houses 25- 30 feet apart.  At my golf course, and here on campus on Horse Barn Hill we put up three birdhouse in the same area and every year we have a tree swallow, a bluebird and an English sparrow in each box. Clean them out by early to late March as bluebirds select nesting sites early even though nest building may not occur yet.

Male Bluebird on this year's selected nesting box

Male Bluebird on this year’s selected nesting box

Insects are slowly but surely making their presence known. Butterflies seen so far are Mourning Cloaks, Spring Azure hairstreaks, Commas and Question Marks, and Cabbage Whites are migrating in this week. Bees and wasps are now common where flowers are blooming, and so are many flies. Lily leaf Beetles will appear as lily host plants start to grow, so be prepared to deal with that pest. Boxwood leaf miners should be in the pupal state soon, and adults should fly by mid May. Look for pupal cases that are exposed on leaves as the adults emerge to gauge when egg- laying may occur. Fireflies are also in flight, but are not in flashing mode yet. Six- spotted tiger beetles should be out and about. Check for these along open dirt roads or woodland paths- their brilliant green metallic elytra make them easy to spot. And tent caterpillars are emerging from their egg masses and using silk to make their tents at forks in cherry branches.

Tent caterpillars just hatched and in daytime shelter
Tent caterpillars just hatched and in daytime shelter

There is too much else going on to even think about, but I am glad that  green and other colors are on the landscape palette again. Here’s hoping we have a great growing season with lots of rewards for our hard labors.

Pamm Cooper                                    All photos copyright 2015 by Pamm Cooper