Learn With Us

Virtual Garden Tours: Sometimes on these cold, dreary winter days it feels like spring will never arrive! Why not brighten your day by looking at the videos of NC Cooperative Extension’s Pollinator Paradise Garden in Pittsboro? These virtual tours feature many of the garden’s 225 different species of plants and the pollinators and other beneficial insects and critters that depend on this habitat. You can learn about new species of plants to include in your garden. Click here to view the videos on the Growing Small Farms website.

Online Learning: Vance/Warren EMGVs will host an on-line learning series with the theme “Gardening in Harmony with Nature”, featuring presenters from NC State Horticulture, the NC Botanical Garden, NC Audubon and Cooperative Extension. The series will be held on alternate Wednesdays at 1 pm, beginning 2/11. Get all the details, including the registration link, at http://go.ncsu.edu/mastergardenerchat

Virtual Bee Hotel Build-along, Feb. 27, 2021, 1-3 PM: Bring some happiness to your backyard native bees with your very own bee hotel! Dr. Elsa Youngsteadt will kick off this event with the biology of native bees and then the expert crafters at the Makerspace will guide us on a build-a-long. We’ll end up with more understanding and love of our native bees and a hotel for them to call home this spring. For the build: You can bring your own materials from a list provided at this link. Or, for those who do not have saws and want to avoid a trip to the hardware store, we have a limited number of pre-cut lumber kits available for purchase, too ($25, shipping to NC and surrounding states only). Kits must be purchased by February 15th. Registration and more info, here: https://cals.ncsu.edu/applied-ecology/event/bee-hotel-build-a-long/ The event is free to attend with registration, open to all, and we welcome anyone who wants to learn about native bees, whether you stick around for the build or not.

Tomato Project Updates and How-To Videos!

We’ve been diligently adding new content to the “Tomato Grafting Project” of the blog, and wanted to make sure everyone sees what the amazing Durham County Master Gardener Tomato Team has been up to! Check out the Tomato Grafting Project tab, or view our how-to series directly below.

While 2020’s grafting trials may be over, we’re excited to hit the experimental plots again this summer to try out several newly developed tomato cultivars against some old favorite heirlooms and hybrids. We’ll be testing productivity and flavor (do heirlooms really taste better across the board than hybrids in blind taste tests?) to see which cultivars really shine in terms of performance and tastiness. Watch the Tomato Grafting Tab for updates!

Learn With Us, January 2021

Learn With Us has a new format! Some in-person programming will be happening in 2021, but space is limited to allow for distancing. Instead of publicizing events happening in the following week, we will advertise events further in advance to allow more time for registration. Since most lectures and presentations are still virtual, we will be posting links to programming in Durham and beyond, highlighting a few talks while providing our readers with the opportunity to view full schedules of events if desired.

Virtual Programming from Durham County

Durham Garden Forum: January 19, 7:00 – 8:30 PM.
Our program this month is on “Tomato Grafting” presented by Dr. Ashley Troth, Extension Agent, Agriculture, NC Cooperative Extension Durham County Center and Kathryn Hamilton, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer. Learn how to get the best of both worlds – great tomato taste and vigorous, disease resistant tomato plants in your garden by grafting two tomatoes together. You will receive all the information needed to do this on your own in the spring. This Zoom presentation is being made available free of charge. Register here: https://ncsu.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJUrd-uvrzojGdKhYoZN2iGx9qjB9MmDr7aw
A confirmation email with information about joining the meeting will be sent. Contact durhamgardenforum@gmail.com for information on future programming.

Getting Started With Warm Season Vegetables: February 11th, 2021, 6-8 PM
For more information and registration: Getting Started With Warm Season Vegetables | North Carolina Cooperative Extension
This class is part of the Bull City Gardener Learning Series – see the full schedule of online and in person events here: go.ncsu.edu/bullcitygardener2021

Integrated Pest Management (Workshop for small fruit growers): February 23, 2021, 6-7:30 PM
Additional information and registration link here: https://durham.ces.ncsu.edu/2021/01/upcoming-online-workshops-for-small-fruit-growers/

Programming from Sarah P. Duke Gardens: Duke Gardens Winter 2021 Adult Programs – Browse program listings

Events at JC Raulston Arboretum (many are online): https://jcra.ncsu.edu/events/calendar/index.php

Follow this link to learn about several NC Cooperative Extension webinars in February that may be of interest to gardeners:

January: To Do in the Garden

By Gary Crispell, EMGV

Well, THAT year is gone. It’s hard to decide whether to be happy, sad or both. It seems premature to be relieved. Perhaps we can be hopeful that the light we see at the end of the tunnel is a good thing and not an Amtrack express train. We can be hopeful that the vaccines will be successful against Covid-19 and its mutant offspring and that enough of the world population will get vaccinated to at least cage the beast. Perhaps we will be able to salvage at least part of the summer and plus the Fall/Winter holidays. Let us be optimistic. Let us GAR—DEN! (A word about the weather; When NOAA predicted a wetter than normal December, I did not anticipate the potential for rice paddies in the backyard. I shall re- access the backyard plan.)

Keep the accumulations of leaves off the turf. They should be through falling by now making that job easier.

Think about how you could change your landscape to eliminate some (or all) of your grass. It is after all the most expensive planting in the yard (unless you have an extensive planting of tea roses) and the most ecologically unsustainable. Just sayin’.

Not much here either unless you need a place to dump wood ashes. You can spread them on the veggie garden, bulb beds or non-acid loving shrub beds if the pH is low, <6.0.

See introductory paragraph.

Should the soil dry out enough to actually be workable asparagus crowns can be planted now.

Sharpen those hand pruners and loppers and go to work. Here’s your get-out-of-the-house excuse. Studies have shown that January pruning cuts heal more rapidly than those made in other months. So, take down those branches over hanging the house and the ones that shade that corner of the garden. Cut back those misshapen or overgrown shrubs. Please prune the branches individually to shape the plant. Unless you are trying to recreate Buckingham Palace or Versailles or the Imperial Palace in Tokyo leave the power hedge clippers where they are. Shearing is not the best thing you can do for a plant. However, if you must…be sure the finished product is wider at the base than the top. This allows sunlight to reach the lower leaves and keep the plant looking full from top to bottom. When pruning entire branches of anything make the cut at the outside of the branch collar (flared area at the branch origin).

Did you bring in some friends when you brought in your houseplants for the winter? Yeah, me, too. Try to catch a warm day and run the plants outside for a quick dose of a light horticultural oil or insecticidal soap. Be sure to READ THE LABEL!

Wear lots of clothes when you go outside, ‘cause I know you are going to go outside. You’re a gardener.

Seed catalogues are highly entertaining and in abundant supply. Enjoy!

Put up a squirrel resistant (squirrel proof is an oxymoron) bird feeder.

Google (or Bing or whomever) North Carolina native plants and determine if there might be something new and interesting you could add to your landscape. (or just check out the NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox)

Make homemade soup with the bounty from your garden and drink warm beverages.

Stay warm. It’s only two months until March.

*Resources & Further Reading

Organic Lawn Care Guide

Central North Carolina Planting Calendar for Annual Fruits, Vegetables, and Herbs

General Pruning Tips

NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox

Fothergilla ‘Mt Airy’ – Spectacular Orange Autumn Color – Southern Style

By Wendy Diaz EMGV

One of things I miss after moving to the south, is the brilliant orange fall color of the sugar maples (Acer saccharum) ubiquitous to Southern Ontario in Canada where I grew up. Which is why, I was pleasantly surprised last November by the similarly brilliant color of my recently planted Fothergilla ‘Mt. Airy’ cultivar. Although not a tree, this shrub is well known in the south for its gorgeous fall color among its other attributes.

Fall orange color of Fothergilla ‘Mt. Airy’ Photo taken November 25, 2019 by Wendy Diaz

Fothergilla ‘Mt. Airy’ Basics

Fothergilla ‘Mt. Airy’ is a deciduous shrub native to Southeastern United States[1]. It is a member of the witch hazel family (Hamamelidaceae) and its common names are dwarf fothergilla and Mt. Airy fothergilla[2]. ‘Mt. Airy’ is a hybrid fothergilla cultivar and was discovered by Michael A. Dirr at the Mt. Airy Arboretum in Cincinnati, Ohio–not in Mount Airy, North Carolina. It may be a cross between two natives Fothergilla gardenia and Fothergilla major. The shrub prefers acidic organically rich, well-drained soils with medium moisture in both full sun and part shade conditions. The shrub grows to three to five feet in height and with a similar spread. There are no serious insect or disease problems with this cultivar but recently, in 2019, leaf spots resulting in defoliation were observed in South Carolina caused by Pseudocercospora fothergillae[3]. Avoiding plant stress and practicing good plant hygiene by collecting up the diseased leaves should control this problem. It has showy white flowers that bloom in April, deep green foliage in the summer, excellent late fall color and an upright branching habit that is attractive in the winter. It definitely has appeal in the garden landscape during all four seasons.

Below: Fothergilla ‘Mt. Airy’ shrub through the seasons: Spring (April 2020), summer (2020), fall (November, 2019) and winter (photo taken December, 2018 shortly after it was planted.)

Gorgeous Fall Color

The fall leaves range in color from yellow to orange and red. They are frost resistant resulting in a late November show of intense color in the Piedmont area. Of course, the color depends on the weather of the previous growing season but Mt. Airy Fothergilla has better fall color than other cultivars like ‘Blue Shadow’[4].

Below: Close up photographs taken on November 28, 2019 of the beautiful orange and yellow foliage of the shrub one year after it was planted in an area that receives afternoon sun.

Other Attributes: Spring Flowers, Summer Foliage and Attractive Branching Habit in Winter

The shrub is most easily identified by its distinctive flowers that are like ‘bottlebrush-like spikes’, one to three inches long that start out globular and then stretch out to become columnar at the ends of the stems. An interesting fact is the flowers have no petals and are comprised only of stamens. The flowers are fragrant and have a faint honey-like sweet scent which attract bees and butterflies.

Spring flowers of Fothergilla ‘Mt. Airy’ Photo taken April 8, 2020 by Wendy Diaz
Closeup of flower of Fothergilla ‘Mt. Airy’ Photo taken April 8, 2020 by Wendy Diaz

The leathery deep green leaf is ovate-shaped and bluish gray underneath. The margins of the leaf are serrated at the top and smooth at its base. Birds love the thick leaves of this understory shrub as it provides them cover and shelter at midlevels in the vertical landscape. The rounded shape of the mature shrub lends itself to a low maintenance hedge. Fothergilla ‘Mt. Airy’ is also deer and rabbit resistant. The zigzag branching habit is particularly noticeable in the winter and adds interest in an otherwise dormant garden landscape4. My young shrub has a unique branch habit that reminds me of up stretched arms.

If you need a shrub for a border, hedge or foundation planting consider the cultivar Fothergilla ‘Mt. Airy. It will improve the aesthetic value and ornamental interest in your garden landscape year round while also providing support for wildlife. I have to wait another few weeks for my Mt. Airy Fothergilla leaves to turn from green to that familiar orange color but it will be worth the wait as my dull garden landscape this time of year needs a splash of color even though it is on a smaller scale than a maple tree.

November 28, 2019 by Wendy Diaz

I also hope you had a chance to enjoy the bright fall colors in our beautiful state of North Carolina this fall but in the future I highly recommend a trip to see the brilliant orange colors of the Sugar Maples of Southern, Ontario when you can travel again.

Below: The brilliant orange color of Sugar Maple trees is beautiful next to a clear blue sky, the deep green of pines or the gray limestone buildings of Kingston, Ontario on a crisp fall day in October 19, 2016. Photos by Wendy Diaz



[2] https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/fothergilla-mount-airy/

[3] https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/fothergilla/

[4] https://wimastergardener.org/article/fothergilla/