• May 11

by Karen Weiland, Advanced Master Gardener

What is a weed?  People have different views on what is and is not a weed.  I see mullien as a beautiful plant with its fuzzy, silvery leaves and tiny yellow flowers.  I like to use them in my landscape around my potting shed.   My farmer husband however, sees it as a weed growing along the edge of his corn field.  Basically, a weed is a plant that is growing where you don’t want it to grow.

Every square inch of your garden contains weed seeds.  They can remain dormant for a long time and each time you work the soil, that process brings those seeds to the surface where they can and will germinate.  According to the Purdue Extension website, one dandelion plant can produce 15,000 seeds in one year, and even worse, each seed is capable of surviving up to six years in the soil.

Using mulch around plants is very beneficial in your war against weeds.  Not only will it smother weed germination, it will also help the soil retain moisture and stay cooler during the hot summer months.  Two to four inches of straw, grass clippings or shredded bark can be used as mulch in the garden.   Layers of newspaper topped with a bit of straw has proven to be a very effective weed barrier in years past for me.    Grass that has been treated with a pesticide or herbicide should not be used.

A sheet of plastic is another mulching alternative.  Using plastic tends to warm the soil so it is best used around warm season vegetables such as tomatoes, squash, melons and peppers.  For larger areas, a shallow pass with the cultivator now and then will keep weeds at bay.  Lastly, there is the option of hand pulling the weeds.  I have read that this is easiest done while they are still small and pulled just after a rain.  I will confess that I detest the awful job of hand pulling weeds and will mulch the daylights out of my garden so those nasty seeds do not see a speck of sun.

Certain herbicides can be used to prevent germination of weed seeds, while another type can be applied to weeds while they are growing.   It is very important to read the product label when choosing an herbicide.  Some are labeled for use on certain vegetable crops, some are only for specific ornamental plants and others have a tendency to drift from what you want to target.  There is no “one size fits all” herbicide.  If you are used to using a certain product for a number of years, check the current label listing as plants can be added or deleted over time.

It is recommended to only use herbicides for spot treatment or for use on a specific crop.

The best and environmentally friendly control option is to use mulch and/or cultivation.

As always, Happy Gardening!!

More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.

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  • May 4

by Karen Weiland, Purdue Master Gardener

I ran into a friend a few weeks ago while checking out the assortment of goodies on the shelves at a local store and right after our “hellos” he told me I needed to write about how to plant a tree and how some folks “are just doing it wrong”.  I always welcome topic ideas, so here you go Norm!

A few things to consider before actually planting the tree is location, season and type of tree.

Choose a tree that will fit your landscape and that will grow well in the type of soil that you have.  A tree planted in the heat of the summer will be stressed much more than one planted in the spring or fall.  And as I’m sure you all know, some trees can be a bit dirtier than others with their falling nuts and spent blooms. Consider how much work you want to put into cleaning up after what you plant.

Lay out a sheet of plastic or canvas or have a wheelbarrow nearby to throw dirt into.  Dig the hole two times as big around as the root spread.  Only dig as deep as the height of the root ball.  You will want solid, undisturbed soil under your tree so that it does not settle after the tree is planted.

I recently planted several 10-12 foot, containerized trees.  The roots were rather dense so I  loosened them by making several vertical cuts around the root ball and then gently pulled some of the roots away from the ball.  According to the University of Missouri Extension website, recent studies have shown that trees root much more slowly in high-density soil than in loosened soil and in most soils, 90 percent of the actively absorbing root tips are located in the upper 12 inches of the root ball.  Taking this information into account, I tapered the sides of my hole to give the upper root system some loose soil to grow into.

Mix the top and subsoil together, and if it is a light, droughty soil, mix in one part peat moss to two parts soil.  Backfill the hole to within one half to three quarters full and fill with water.  I mix a root stimulator product that I bought at a local nursery, with my water.  Once that has drained, finish filling with the remaining soil.  Water again and do not tamp the soil.  Finish with a 2-3 inch layer of mulch, keeping it away from the trunk of the tree.  Do not create a sloping mound of mulch around the trunk as this will lead to a slow death for your tree.  To keep weeds from growing through the mulch, lay down multiple layers of newspaper.   Mulching will also help keep the roots cooler in the summer and it will help retain moisture.  Depending on how much rainfall is had, you may need to water regularly during the first couple of years.

As always, Happy Gardening!

More information about tree planting and gardening subjects is available online at www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service

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  • Apr 27

by Karen Weiland, Purdue Master Gardener

Edible landscaping is the integration of edible plants into the ornamental landscape.  More people are looking toward growing their own nutritious produce at home, thus saving money and natural resources at the same time.  Think about incorporating  fruit trees and blueberry bushes into the planting scheme of your yard or lining  the side of your patio with some beautiful rhubarb, with its bold red stalks and crinkly leaves, being under planted with some creeping thyme.

Many vegetables lend themselves very well to being planted into containers.  I have an assortment of greens and lettuces growing in my rain barrel planter.  When planting vegetables keep their aesthetics and growing habits in mind as well as their taste.  Pretty purple cabbage would look very nice planted with some snowy white cauliflower.  If it’s bold color you’re looking for, Swiss chard comes in a rainbow of colors and sweet peppers sport a very bright yellow.  Some cherry tomatoes planted in a pot would make a tasty snack while lounging on the patio.

Don’t forget the edible flowers such as nasturtiums, chives, lavender and basil.  Use them as garnishes and in salads.  My favorite is nasturtium, with its zesty, peppery taste itcan be added to a sandwich in place of mustard or add it to pretty up a salad.

Edible plants, like ornamentals, require maintenance.  Just remember to “plant the right plant in the right place”.  In other words take into consideration the plants growing requirements and what condition your landscape area is in.  Most food producing plants need a sunny location and well drained soil along with some pruning, fertilizer and water.

Keep in mind that vegetables and herbs that are planted and harvested frequently will need to be kept in an area to themselves.  This will allow you to amend and cultivate the soil without disturbing the roots of the ornamentals.

Landscaping with edibles not only adds a twist to gardening, it enhances your health and well-being too.  Raspberries you pick yourself will taste so much better than the raspberries that have been trucked hundreds of miles to get to your local grocery store.  So the next time you decide to make a change to your landscape or yard, make it do double duty by using edible plants.

As always, Happy Gardening!

More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.

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  • Apr 20

By Karen Weiland, Master Gardener

Spring is here and it’s time to get busy!

FLOWERS, VEGETABLES AND SMALL FRUIT

  • The weak, diseased or damaged canes from raspberry plants should be removed before new growth starts.  If you did not remove them last year, remove the old fruiting canes and shorten the remaining canes if they need it.
  • Grapes need to be pruned to remove dead or weak vines and check support trellises for repair.
  • The winter mulch on strawberry beds can be removed as the new growth starts, but keep it close by to protect the plants from frost and to help keep weeds under control.
  • Cool season vegetables can be planted as soon as the ground has drained and is dried enough to work.
  • Asparagus, rhubarb and small fruit plants can be planted.
  • Cut back the dead canes of roses until you reach healthy tissue.  Starting one quarter inch above an outward facing bud, make a downward slanting cut. This will direct the new growth to grow outward thus increasing airflow to the midst of the plant.
  • When filling large patio containers, save on soil by filling the bottom with packing peanuts, empty water bottles, upside down plastic flower pots and such.  Cover your filler with landscape fabric or cardboard to prevent the soil from filtering down through it.  It depends on the size of the plant, but most will grow very happily with about a foot of soil depth.
  • Are your daffodils not blooming as prolifically as they once did?  They may be overcrowded and need to be divided.  After they are finished flowering and the foliage has died back, dig them up, separate them and replant them immediately.

LAWN

  • The application of pre-emergence herbicides to control crabgrass is suggested between April 15 and May 10 for northern Indiana.
  • Seed bare spots.

WOODY LANDSCAPE PLANTS

  • Bare-root stock should be planted before the new top growth starts.
  • While trees are in bloom and to avoid injuring bees, use a pesticide containing fungicide only and no insecticide.  Always, be sure to read and follow all label directions.
  • Remove and destroy bagworms that have overwintered in landscape trees and shrubs.
  • Plant a tree to celebrate Arbor Day.

Branches from early spring flowering trees and shrubs can be cut and forced into bloom.

Pussy Willow branches can be cut to use in decorative spring arrangements.

Soil testing should be done at this time.

Be reminded that gardening is a great way to divert your mind from everyday work, conflicts or other issues.  It relieves stress and provides some mental relaxation.  Tending to a garden satisfies the human instinct to nurture and care, so not only is gardening good for the physical body it is also good for our spiritual and mental wellbeing as well.

As you all well know, gardening events and practices can change from year to year depending on what kind of weather we are having, so the information in this article is intended to be used as a general guide.

As always, Happy Gardening!

More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs.html The Purdue University Cooperative Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.

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  • Apr 13

by Karen Weiland, Purdue Master Gardener

Rich in iron, calcium, vitamin C and B vitamins, asparagus is one of the first crops to be harvested in the spring and if given the proper planting and care, an asparagus bed can be productive for 15 years or more.

The asparagus bed should be located in a sunny area.  It can tolerate a little shade but the plants will not be as vigorous and full sun helps minimize the threat of disease.

The soil will need to have a pH of 6.5 to 7.5 and be well drained as soggy soil will cause root rot.

It is best to have the soil tested as asparagus will not grow well if the soil pH is less than 6.0 and  the levels of potassium and phosphorus are also important to the vigor of asparagus.

Bare root asparagus crowns can be planted mid-April thru late May after the soil has warmed up to about 50 degrees.  Dig a furrow about 10 to 12inches deep and wide enough to accommodate the spread of your asparagus root system.  Apply to the bottom of the furrow about 1 pound of 0-46-0 (triple superphosphate) or 0-20-0 (superphosphate) fertilizer for every 50 feet of row.  This will make phosphorus available right away to the newly planted crowns.  Planting 1 year old crowns will produce a quicker crop than sowing seeds.  Space the crowns about 1 ½ feet apart in the row.  The crowns need to be centered in an upright position in the furrow and the roots spread out.  If more than 1 row is planted, the rows should be spaced about 5 feet apart.  Wide spacing promotes the rapid drying of the fern tops to help prevent disease.  After the furrow is filled back in to its original soil level do not tamp it down as asparagus roots like loose soil.

Do not harvest the asparagus shoots during the year it was planted.  The ferns that emerge from the spears produce food for the plant and move it down to the crown for the next years spear production.

Asparagus is very drought tolerant and usually does not need any supplemental watering once the roots are established.   However, if rainfall is short, a little watering would be beneficial to the crowns.

Do not cut the fern growth at the end of the growing season.  Leaving it intact over the winter will catch snow for additional soil moisture and provides insulation for the crown.  Remove the old fern growth by cutting or mowing it off about the first week of April.

On a side note, a few of the first crops that can be sown in the ground once the soil dries out enough are radishes, spinach, swiss chard, carrots, lettuce and beets.  Plan to make successive sowings every few weeks so you can harvest over a prolonged period of time.

Also, this would be a good time to get your soil tested if you haven’t done so in a number of years.  Testing supplies with instructions can be obtained through your local Extension office.

As always, Happy Gardening!

More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.

Karen Weiland, Purdue Master Gardener, Purdue Extension, LaGrange County

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  • Apr 6

by Karen Weiland, Purdue Master Gardener

Crabgrass, a summer annual, appears in the lawn as a light green, weedy plant and can be eliminated with or without chemicals.  One of the best non-chemical lawn care practices to prevent the invasion of crabgrass or any other weed is to mow at the correct height. Setting your mower to a height of 2 ½ “to 3” can have a big impact as it helps to create a dense, thick lawn.  Closely mowed grass leaves an open invitation for weed seeds to germinate as it “opens up” the lawn.  A thick stand of grass will shade the soil and therefore discourage crabgrass germination.

Adequate and timely fertilization can further reduce weed competition by increasing turf-grass vigor.  Open and weak turf-grass areas promote crabgrass infestations because of higher soil temperatures which promote germination and decrease competition from cool season grasses.  It is recommended to apply 2 to 4 pounds of nitrogen per 1000 ft squared each year.  Apply 60-100% of the nitrogen in two applications in the fall, one in September and one in November after the last mowing. A summer application of nitrogen will just feed and strengthen the crabgrass you have.

Crabgrass seeds germinate when soil temperatures are approximately 60 degrees F for 3-5 days at the ¼” level.  You may like to refer to the Growing Degree Days chart at www.gddtracker.net/?model=7&offset=0&zip=46746 (insert your zip code of different than 46746).  It will help you determine the best time to apply herbicides.

The ideal growing conditions for crabgrass are light, frequent watering and areas of bare, warm soil.  When irrigating, do so deeply to wet the soil to the depth of the roots.  Do not water again until you notice drought stress.  Apply grass seed to bare areas.

Weed killers, also known as herbicides, are available to manage those annual weeds that may plague your lawn.  There are pre-emergence herbicides that prevent the emergence of annual weeds such as crabgrass.  This product should be applied before the crabgrass emerges from the soil.  For our area it is recommended that this type of herbicide be applied between late April and early May.  It just depends on the type of weather we are having.  Herbicides may differ so always read, understand and follow the label for suggestions on when to apply and the application rate of what you have chosen to use.  Keep in mind when applying that some pre-emergence herbicides will also damage emerging desirable grass seed.

There are post-emergence herbicides available and need to be applied when the crabgrass plants are very small.  Usually by the time you notice the crabgrass it is too mature for the post-emergence herbicide to work.  There is more difficulty in using these products than in using the pre-emergence ones.  It is extremely important to follow the label instructions.  Consider herbicidal control only if necessary.

As always, Happy Gardening!

More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs.  The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.

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  • Mar 30

by Karen Weiland, Purdue Master Gardener

Watering seems like such a simple task, however if it is not done correctly the plant will suffer.  Wick watering reduces the number of times a pot will need to be attended to each week and it provides vacationers with ease of mind when gone for a period of time.

Wick watering is done by simply running a length of rope from the soil down through a drainage hole and into a reservoir of water.  As the soil in the pot dries, the wick draws water from the reservoir and rehydrates the plant.

The best time to insert a water wick is when you are potting your plant.  Make sure you are using the correct type of pot and potting mix, or you may end up with rotted plants that were too wet.  Plastic or ceramic pots are recommended as they will slow the rate of evaporation from the soil.  The potting mix needs to be very porous so that there is plenty of oxygen around the roots even when the mix is wet.  A recommended mix is 1 part sphagnum peat moss, 1 part perlite and 1 part vermiculite.   The mix should be pre-moistened before potting your plant or the wicking process may not function properly. The wick should also be pre-moistened before pulling it through the soil.

After the pot has been filled with damp potting soil, pull the wick up through a drain hole and into the soil with a section of coat hanger that has one end bent into a hook shape.  This coat hanger method would also work for an already established potted plant.  The wick should dangle out the bottom of the pot and rest in the reservoir of water below.

How many wicks your pot may need partly depends on how much moisture your soil mix will hold and how thirsty your plant is.  A small 3 inch pot will only need one wick, a 6 inch pot may need two.  The wick should be a man-made fiber such as acrylic, rayon or nylon yarn or cording.  African violet growers use small strings as wicks, larger plants and pots will require larger wicks.  You will need enough wick length to keep about 2 inches in the soil and enough left over to reach the bottom of the reservoir.

You will need a “riser” to keep the pot sitting above the water in the tray.  The rim of a discarded plastic container can work quite well for a diy riser.  They are easily cut with scissors, but be sure that the pot will sit an inch or two above the bottom of the tray and not above the rim of the tray.  When cutting the edge of your riser, check that there is enough variation in the edge so that water can easily flow through.

As always, Happy Gardening!

More information about gardening and related subjects can be found online at www.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can

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  • Mar 23

by Karen Weiland, Purdue Master Gardener

African violets are one of my favorite houseplants.  Their care takes little effort, they do not take up a lot of space and they bless me during the winter with beautiful blooms.

A pleasing temperature for these houseplants is 65 to 80 degrees.  Anything above or below this will reduce blooming.   They like strong, bright light, but keep them away from direct sunlight as this can cause scorching of the leaves.  I keep mine in an east and south facing window.

African violets are a bit picky when it comes to how they like their water.  Not too cold or too hot, room temperature is best.  They are not fond of chlorine either.  If your tap water is chlorinated, let it stand overnight to allow the chlorine gases to evaporate.  This will also allow the water to come to room temperature.  Let the soil dry out slightly before watering, then water them from the bottom by setting the pot into a tray or bowl of water.  I can tell by lifting my African violet when it needs to be watered.  It is much lighter when the soil is dry than when it is wet.

Slow release fertilizers are the best way to give your plant safe levels of the nutrients it needs.  Water from the top once a month to flush out salts in the soil.

A light, airy soil texture is important to a vigorous root system in African violets.  In their native habitat they grow with much air reaching their roots.  Equal parts of peat moss, vermiculite and perlite is ideal.  Violets do not like to be placed in a too large pot.  In most cases roots only grow one third the diameter of the leaves and they do not grow very deep.  For example, a 9 inch plant should be placed in a pot no more than three inches wide and 4 inches deep.

Thrips and mealybugs are their main pests to keep a watch for.  They are both very small, about the size of a printed dash.  If you spot any pests, a rinse with lukewarm, soapy water may help or dab them with a cotton swab soaked with alcohol.

There are so many different kinds of African violets to choose from with many different leaf shapes and flower colors and combinations.  I recently acquired 3 “minis”.  They will only grow up to 6 inches.  For more information about the classes and cultivars visit the African Violet Society of America’s website at www.avsa.org/home.

As always, Happy Gardening!

More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service

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  • Mar 16

by Karen Weiland, Purdue Master Gardener

Most Hellebores, also known as Lenten Roses, are an easy care plant and are a must have in my garden.  They are very hardy plants, grown in zones 4 – 8 and will survive some of the worst weather Mother Nature can throw at them.  Hellebores are primarily European natives, growing in open meadows in Bosnia, Turkey and China.  I was introduced to them a few years ago at the LaGrange County Master Gardeners Symposium.

This perennial plant typically flowers in late winter to spring.  Their lantern-like flowers come in shades of white, green, dusky pink and purple and can last from 10 – 12 weeks.  They will grow well in most soils, even tolerating acid soils.  However, their preference is for a neutral to slightly limey soil – a pH of about 7 would be ideal.  Most prefer semi-shade and are sometimes sold as shade loving plants.  Plants in deep shade will survive, but will exhibit sparser growth and produce fewer blooms. As with Hostas, the shade tolerance of these plants make them suitable for developing a woodland garden or growing under trees and large shrubs. Mature plants form clumps about 18 to 24 inches tall and 24 to 30 inches wide.

Most parts of the Hellebores are toxic.  The name hellebore comes from the Greek “elein” meaning to injure and “bora” meaning food. A mild skin irritation has been known to occur in people that are especially susceptible after an extensive period of handling these plants without using gloves.  Touted to be a deer resistant plant, these may be a logical choice, possibly as a ground cover, for a deer infested landscape.

Here in the north, where we live, the leaves may still remain green for much of the winter, but they tend to look rather ratty by the time spring arrives.  Trim off the old leaves and soon the “reinforcements” (new leaves) will be well on their way.  Amending the soil with compost will improve the vigor of the Hellebores plants as will fertilizing with a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer in the spring.   For the lazy gardener, do nothing at all and they will most likely survive rather well.

These plants are a bit slow to get established, but once they are it is not very likely they will need to be divided.  However, if you would want to do so or need to transplant some, it is best to do that in September or October.  Dig the entire plant up, wash the dirt off the roots and divide with a sharp knife between the growth buds.  Keep at least 3 buds to each division.

When planting new plants or divisions, keep the crowns at soil level to no more than 1 inch deep (the crown is where the stems meet the roots).  Prior to planting, dig a deep hole, as many of these plants have deep root systems.  To prevent rot, do not mulch excessively or keep wet.

As always, happy gardening!

More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at www.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.

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  • Mar 9

by Karen Weiland, Purdue Master Gardener

So you have selected the seeds, carefully planted them in their pots, watered them, kept them warm, watched them germinate and start their growing process and then, one by one, fall over, shrivel up and die.

This horticultural disease is called damping off.  It is caused by soilborne fungi and it can occur before or after the little seedlings sprout from the soil.

The first sign that damping off may have occurred is the failure of the plant to emerge from the soil.  If seeds are attacked before they germinate, they will become soft and then decay.  If seedlings are attacked after they emerge, the plants stem tissue at the soil line will begin to decay and weaken, then fall over and die.  Sometimes only the roots are affected.  The stunted plants may continue standing for a time, but will eventually wilt and die.

It is best not to use old seed which may be weak.  If you do use old seed, test a sample for its ability to germinate by sandwiching the seed between two warm, moist layers of paper towel.   Look for seeds that have been pre-treated with a fungicide.  If none is available, you can add an amount of fungicide, equal to two match heads, to the seed packet.  Close the packet, give it a shake, then plant.  Seeds and seedlings are more susceptible to damping off if the soil temperature is less than favorable or is kept too wet.  The optimal soil temperature is dependent upon the type of seed being grown but most germinate when the soil temperature is between 68 and 86 degrees.

Sanitation is important because spores of the organisms that cause damping off can survive in dust and planting medium that is left over in flats, pots and plug trays.  Seedling pots and trays should either be new or used ones should be disinfected with a bleach and water solution.  Tools and surfaces being worked on should also be disinfected before preparing pots/trays for seed planting.  Use an uncontaminated soilless growing mix.

I have a little diy project for you.  I like to use the black plastic trays measuring 2 ½”x10 ½”x21” for seed starting.  They are rather flimsy and tend to break or tear when being lifted while full with plant plugs.  Using some scrap lumber I had saved for who knows what, I made a wooden tray that makes transporting my seedlings a snap.  Inside dimensions are 1 ¾”x11”x21 ½”.  I just cut 2end pieces using ¾”thick lumber 12”x1 ¾”, 2side pieces 21 ½”x 1 ¾”and 3 bottom pieces 23”x1”.  Sandwich the side pieces between the end pieces to create a rectangle, then fasten the 3 bottom pieces to the bottom, spacing them evenly.  Easy peasy!

As always, Happy Gardening!!

More information about gardening and related subjects can be found online at www.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.

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