Learn With Us, week of December 9

Controlling Invasive Plants – Durham Garden Forum
Tuesday, December 11, 2018
6:30 – 8:00pm
Duke Gardens, 420 Anderson St, Durham, NC 27708

What are the invasive plants that threaten North Carolina and how can we control these plants? Learn which plants to avoid and prevent problems before they begin. If the horse has already left the barn in your garden, Johnny Randell, NC Botanical Gardens Director of Conservation Programs, will help you learn how to eradicate these thugs from your garden and landscape. Meet at the Doris Duke Center.

For membership information, email durhamgardenforum@gmail.com.

$10 per meeting payable to Durham Garden Forum. Forum members free with $25 annual membership.
(919) 668-1707

Growing Rabbiteye Blueberry Bushes: Plan Now, Plant Later

by Andrea Laine, EMGV

Fall is for planting! We master gardeners say that all the time. It is true for most plants, yet not for  blueberry bushes as I have learned from Bill Cline, an NC State Extension specialist on blueberries. The best time to plant or transplant blueberry bushes is when they are dormant. In Durham County, February is a safe bet.

I planted three Rabbiteye blueberry bushes several years ago in an open wooded area; two survive but far from thrive. I wanted to know what I did wrong and, more importantly, what I needed to do right. The payoffs would be sweet juicy fruits a short walk from my front door and a bushy landscape plant with crimson autumn color.

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Crimson-colored autumn foliage makes blueberry bushes attractive landscape plants. Even this spindly one in my yard. Photo by Andrea Laine.

About the Species

Blueberry bushes are deciduous woody perennials that are members of the Heath family and Vaccinium species. They are acid-loving plants native to North America and related to azaleas and cranberries. They are pollinated by insects. A winter chilling period is required for fruit to form.

Types of blueberries that can be grown in North Carolina are Highbush, Rabbiteye and Southern Highbush. The Rabbiteye (Vaccinium virgatum), however, is native to the southeast and easiest to grow. It is the one that does best in home gardens in the Piedmont. Rabbiteye berries will ripen from mid-June to mid-august and there are many cultivated varieties.

Powder blue fruit
Fruit on a ‘Powder Blue’ Rabbiteye blueberry bush. Photo by Bill Cline, NCSU. Used with permission.

Growing Conditions

Pay close attention to three conditions for your Rabbiteyes to thrive: Full sun, acidic soil and good drainage. If sited anywhere with less than full sun, the plants will struggle. If the pH is not within the range of 4 to 5, nutrients may not be absorbed. Planting bushes in a raised bed fashion in soil amended with pine bark will help lower the pH and improve drainage. Cline notes that a lack of aeration in the soil is a problem he sees often in home gardens. Mix and mound the amended soil and mulch the area with bark, wood chips, pine straw or black plastic to suppress weeds and hold in moisture.

At planting time

At planting time (late winter), remove all flower buds and prune canes to six inches. Keep only three or four upright shoots. This will encourage the plant to branch out and form a vegetative, multitrunk bush. Removing the flower buds will prevent fruiting the first year and build a stronger plant. It may be three years before you harvest a crop. If you are transplanting an existing bush as I am, cut the top off and just move the root ball. Water the plant regularly the first year.

Pruning

Pruning stimulates growth of young and productive shoots. Selectively prune the bush every year during winter.

 

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Blueberry bushes in need of a good pruning. Don’t be timid! Photo by Ann Barnes, used with permission.

BeforeAfterBlue Pruning

Don’t be timid! Remove old, weak or diseased canes. Remove twiggy matchstick wood and take a few larger canes out each year. Strive for an upright plant. Annually remove 40 to 50 percent of flower buds; this will encourage bigger berries. Cline notes that no one should need to climb a ladder to pick blueberries; on a properly pruned bush the majority of fruit will be beneath knees and shoulders.

 

Tips

  • An insect must visit each flower or a berry will not form. Plant two or more cultivars for cross-pollination and to stretch the fruiting season and increase the yield. Standard Rabbiteye cultivars are: Premier, Tifblue, Powderblue, Climax, Brightwell. Newer ones are: Alapaha, Vernon, Ochlockonee, Columbus, Onslow, Ira.
  • Make every effort to keep bushes healthy through the spring and into summer months. Flowers need to survive in order for fruits to develop.

    Tifblue flowers
    Flowers on a ‘Tifblue’ Rabbiteye bluberry bush. Photo by Bill Cline, NCSU. Used with permission.
  • Pick your berries and collect them in shallow buckets so that fruit isn’t crushed. To increase quality and reduce rot, pick all ripe fruit at each harvest and do not pick or handle fruit when it is wet.
  • Test your soil before fertilizing.

Alas, I probably cannot produce the ideal growing conditions for blueberry bushes in my landscape, so I have adjusted my expectations. Rather than adding more bushes and creating a blueberry patch, I will transplant the two I already have to the sunniest part of my yard (half day at best) and follow all the tips above with the hope that my bushes may succeed as ornamental plants if not great fruit producers. And, as long as there are farmer’s markets in Durham, I’ll be berry happy.

Five ways to enjoy fresh blueberries:

  1. Bake into a pie. Here’s an award-winning recipe from the 2015 NC State Fair.
  2. Sprinkle on a green salad.
  3. Add to a breakfast bowl of oatmeal or yogurt.
  4. Straight up as a snack.
  5. Add antioxidant power to a smoothie.

 

Resources and Further Reading

NCSU’s blueberry portal:
https://blueberries.ces.ncsu.edu/

Growing blueberries in the home garden
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/growing-blueberries-in-the-home-garden

Principles of Pruning the Highbush Blueberry
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/principles-of-pruning-the-highbush-blueberry

22-minute video of hands-on blueberry pruning workshop
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkFhMwoiUDQ

Blueberry pruning diagrams
https://blueberries.ces.ncsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/blueberry-pruning-diagrams.pdf?fwd=no

Fresh blueberries are extremely perishable and easily damaged by rough handling and adverse temperatures
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/postharvest-cooling-and-handling-of-blueberries

https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/nursery-list-of-small-fruit-cultivars-for-home-use-in-north-carolina

An overview of growing Rabbiteye bluberries from Alabama cooperative extension
http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-1078/ANR-1078.pdf

Recipe for Blueberry Pie
http://statefairrecipes.com/2016/09/2220/

 

 

 

To Do in December

By Gary Crispell, EMGV

The holidays
Are upon us.
It’s cold enough
To prune the euonymus.

Most of the leaves
Have fallen down
And into the compost,
Raked and blown.

The door is closed
On the potting shed.
Most of the garden
Has been put to bed.

But before the year
Turns over anew,
There are a few more things
Left to do.

Lawn Care

Mow the fescue
One more time.
Remove the leaves
To keep it fine.

Planting

Landscape plants
Can still be planted
There in that space
Where you’ve always wanted.

Pruning

Prune the nandina
And red-berried holly,
Arrange them on the table
To make it look jolly.

Herbaceous perennials
Can still be cut back.
While weeds and “bad” trees
Can be thoroughly wacked.

Spraying

While some think
Spraying is fun,
In the month of December
There should be none.

Other Stuff That is Mostly Fun

The Christmas tree
Really needs water
And will appreciate
Being away from the heater.

To keep your poinsettias
Cheery and bright
Put them in the room
With the sunniest light.

As to your soil recommendations,
Apply the lime.
Save the fert
For the warmer springtime.

If it’s viticulture
Or an orchard you seek,
Order plants now
To plant by March’s second week.

For your strawberries
A sweet straw bed,
Either wheat or pine
A blanket for their heads.

May your holidays
Be blessed and merry
As bright and cheery
As the holly’s berry.

And may next year’s garden
Be like my Grandmother’s,
A bounty for you
And a bounty for others.

Plant List of Native Alternatives to Invasive Species

Editor’s note: This is the third and final installment in a series about creating a bird-friendly yard. In the two previous blog articles, Wendy Diaz, EMGV, wrote about pivotal moments in her life as a gardener: deciding to focus on native plants, and creating a plan based on plant recommendations from the National Audobon Society.

My plan to create a bird-friendly yard will be accomplished in two stages. Stage 1 is the removal of high-threat invasive species in the fall of this year (2018), and Stage 2 will commence in the spring of 2019 by removing non-natives that are not high threat but their native alternatives would provide more benefit for wildlife and not multiply as quickly.

My garden  plan includes the following replacements based on recommendations from the New Hope Audubon Society, NC Botanical Garden and the Going Native Website1,2,3:

 Already Removed

Invasive Plant Native Alternative Plant
Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin) Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)
Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana) Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
Chinese beauty berry (Callicarpa dichotoma) native beauty berry (Callicarpa  americana)
Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) Maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum)
Japanese Stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum) Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)

Stage I Removal of High Threat Invasive Species (Fall, 2018)

Invasive Plant Native Alternative Plant
Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) or trumpet vine (Campsis radicanas) or Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) and Dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii)
Big Leaf Periwinkle (Vinca major) spotted wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata), Frogfruit (Phylla nodiflora), Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), Common blue violet (Viola sororia), Crested dwarf iris (Iris cristata)
Heavenly bamboo (Nandina) Florida-hobblebush (Agarista populifolia),  Strawberrybush (Euonymous americanus)/ St. Andrew’s Cross (Hypericum hypericoides)
Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) coral honeysuckle (Loncicera sempervirens)/Yellow Passionflower (Passiflora lutea)
English Ivy (Hedera helix) Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
Burning bush (Euonymus alatus) Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica)/winterberry (Ilex verticillata) /winged sumac (Rhus copallinum)

Stage II Removal (Spring, 2019)

Non-Native Plant Native Alternative Plant
Golden Rain Tree (Koelreuteria paniculata) Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)
Butterfly bush Coastal sweet-pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia)
Japanese privet common wax-myrtle (Morella cerifera)
Morning glory native clematis viorna (Clematis viorna)/milkvine (Matelea carolinensis)
Chinese holly Inkberry (Ilex glabra)/Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana)/ Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria)
Forsythia Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)/high bush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)
Grass Rosy Sedge (Carex rosea) and Pink muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris)
Siberian Iris Scarlet rose-mallow (Hibiscus coccineus)
Liriope (Liriope muscari variegated) Bee balm (Monarda didyma)

Next time you are considering an ornamental plant to add to your landscape why not try a native plant that suits your needs and helps wildlife at the same time? At the very least, don’t plant invasive species like I did. Hopefully in time, I will attract new birds, butterflies and caterpillars. Then I will need a better camera lens to zoom in on all the new flowers and animals!

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Scarlet Rose-Mallow Home garden Photo taken by Wendy Diaz July 25, 2018
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Blue bird next to white oak. Home garden Photo taken by Wendy Diaz May 10, 2017

References:

  1. https://projects.ncsu.edu/goingnative/howto/mapping/invexse/index.html
  2. https://projects.ncsu.edu/goingnative/howto/mapping/nplants/index.php
  3. http://www.newhopeaudubon.org/wp-content/themes/nhas/library/docs/native-plant-growing-guide-piedmont-nc.pdf

More Reading on Invasive Species: 

http://ncbg.unc.edu/uploads/files/PlantThisNotThat.pdf

Where to buy Native Plants:

  1. https://projects.ncsu.edu/goingnative/howto/implemen.html#where
  2. https://growingsmallfarms.ces.ncsu.edu/growingsmallfarms-pollinatorresources/

Planning a Bird-friendly Yard

Editor’s note: This is the second post in a series about bird-friendly native gardening written by Wendy Diaz, EMGV. The third and final post, a plant list, will appear next week.

After a visit to my yard by representatives from the New Hope Audubon Society, I resolved to rid my garden of invasive species. My goal is to achieve Platinum Certification and, consequently, invasive plants cannot cover more than 10% of my property; an improvement from the Gold Level I received in August. A helpful guide on how to plan and implement a more bird-friendly yard, by selecting native plants that suit your needs as well as birds, is provided by the Going Native website1. A particularly useful tool is the plant selection guide that helps you select plants that fit your gardening needs and conditions so you can make your own plant list2.  A native plant is suggested just by entering your region, light requirement, soil moisture, leaf type, wildlife value target and bloom period.

This fall, the first plant to be removed is my non-flowering Chinese wisteria that I will probably replace with Audubon’s suggestion of a crossvine or trumpet vine. The second plant that I will take on will be the Big Leaf Periwinkle (Vinca major). About 1,000 square feet of my yard, beneath my hardwoods is covered with Big Leaf Periwinkle so I plan on using several plants to replace this ground cover in the part shady area with varying degrees of soil moisture. This will also increase the diversity of plants in my yard and year-round color interest. It is relatively easy to pull the Vinca major up by the roots, although they recommended mowing it first, because of the abundance of rain this year. Although I have already removed the Mimosa and Bradford Pear trees years ago, their former presence is evident by the frequent seedlings that still germinate in my yard, so this effort of eradication will require ongoing vigilance.

DSC_0660P
Native fall colors of bright yellow Hickory Tree and orange Winged Sumac (behind deep green Magnolia).  Suggested replacements of Chinese Wisteria (circled in red) is crossvine or trumpet vine (lime green) with Fothergilla bush (light green) Photo taken by Wendy Diaz November 5, 2018
DSC_0390P
Bluebirds in bird bath of home garden surrounded by invasive species of Big Leaf Periwinkle (circled in red). Suggested replacements of Frogfruit (evergreen), Crested Dwarf iris, River oats and Oakleaf Hydrangea (green). Photo by Christopher Diaz October 17, 2018
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River Oats North Carolina Botanical Garden Photo taken by Wendy Diaz October 7, 2018
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Brilliant fall color of Oakleaf Hydrangea in home garden. Photo taken by Wendy Diaz December 4, 2017
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Coral honeysuckle in home garden. Photo taken by Wendy Diaz April 23, 2018

 

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Hearts a Bustin’/Strawberry Bush, North Carolina Botanical Garden. Photo taken by Wendy Diaz October 7, 2018

Planting of the alternative native plants will occur gradually over time as I source the plants from area nurseries, optimize my budget and observe the plants’ performance ornamentally and ecologically. I already have some of the native plants and I will encourage them to spread and may propagate them.

 

References:

  1. https://projects.ncsu.edu/goingnative/howto/mapping/invexse/index.html
  2. https://projects.ncsu.edu/goingnative/howto/mapping/nplants/index.php
  3. http://www.newhopeaudubon.org/wp-content/themes/nhas/library/docs/native-plant-growing-guide-piedmont-nc.pdf

More Reading on Invasive Species:
http://ncbg.unc.edu/uploads/files/PlantThisNotThat.pdf

Where to buy Native Plants:

  1. https://projects.ncsu.edu/goingnative/howto/implemen.html#where
  2. https://growingsmallfarms.ces.ncsu.edu/growingsmallfarms-pollinatorresources/