Learn With Us, week of October 14

Durham Garden Forum: Approaches to Planting Design
October 16, 2018, 6:30-8pm
Sarah P. Duke Gardens
420 Anderson St, Durham, NC 27705

A landscape design will take shape before your eyes as Preston Montague, landscape architect and artist from Lift[ED] Landscapes, builds a landscape design in ‘real time.’ He will work to meet a user’s goals while also exploring options and possibilities that become evident through the process of design. Learn about contemporary design strategies and how you might apply these in your own landscape. Meet in Doris Duke Center.

$10, payable to Durham Garden Forum (Forum members free with $25 annual membership). For membership information, email durhamgardenforum@gmail.com. No charge for Parking.

To Do in October

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Well, wasn’t September fun?! Dry, wet, dry, OMG wet. Heartfelt sympathies to those who suffered loss by Florence. For those of us whose gardens were only moderately affected (or not at all) here is the October calendar.

Fertilizing
Not much to do here unless you are planting spring flowering bulbs. Should that be the case, incorporate a little balanced fertilizer (10-10-10 or equivalent) into the soil as you plant. Store any leftover fertilizer in a dry place for the winter.

Planting

  • The above-mentioned spring flowering bulbs (e.g. hyacinths, tulips, daffodils, crocuses, etc.).
  • Pansies! Those plucky members of the Viola genus who can brighten up a gray winter day should be on everyone’s list unless, of course, there are deer nearby.  Apparently, the pansies make a great dessert after a meal of azalea branches.  Plant them soon as the more established they are when it gets cold the better able they will be to withstand the cold.
  • “Fall is for planting.” It’s not just a slogan from the nursery industry. It is gospel. The very best time to plant any new landscape plants you have been planning is now.
  • Peonies can be planted or transplanted now.
  • In the vegetable garden consider a nitrogen fixing cover crop like red clover, hairy vetch or winter rye. This will help keep down the weeds and add nitrogen to the soil. In the spring just till it into the soil to add nutrients and organic matter.
  • If you happen to be one of the foresighted people who have a cold frame now is the appropriate time to plant a winter’s worth of salad. Lettuce, green onions, radishes, carrots, spinach and other leafy greens will grace your salad bowl all winter if planted now.

Pruning
Once frost (It’s October. It is going to frost!) has finished the decimation of the perennial garden cut off all the dead tops and throw them on the compost pile. Root prune any trees or plants you plan to move in the spring.

Spraying
Unless you have a lace bug problem, it is time to clean up and winterize the sprayer and store the pesticides in a secured, dry location that will not freeze. As for the lace bugs, they are active whenever the leaf surface temperature is warm enough (i.e. whenever the sun shines on the leaves). A horticultural oil spray can be helpful in controlling both feeding adults and egg stages.

Lawn Care
Maintain adequate moisture levels for any newly seeded or sodded lawns.  Avoid leaf buildup on lawns.

Tall fescue and bluegrass (not the fiddlin’ kind) can still be planted in October.

Propagation
Keep an eye on any new cuttings in the cold frame (the one without the salad greens in it). They should be checked at least twice a month and watered as needed.
If you are a gardener lucky enough to be able to grow rhubarb now is the time to dig and divide it.

Other stuff to do that will keep you outdoors while the leaves turn color:

  • Take soil samples while they are still FREE. NC Department of Agriculture will charge for them from November to April.
  • Put those raked 0r blown leaves into the compost bin or till them into the veggie garden.
  • Clean fill and put out the bird feeders.
  • Dig and store (cool, dark, dry) tender summer flowering bulbs (E.g. gladioli, dahlia, caladium) before frost.
  • Clean up lubricate and otherwise prepare lawn and garden equipment for its long winter’s rest.

A mea culpa. This writer neglected to inform you that it is time to band trees that are susceptible to canker worm invasions. This involves wrapping and securing the trunk with a coarse material like burlap or quilt batting about 4 or 5 feet above the ground. That in turn is wrapped with a corrugated paper wrap that is then covered with the stickiest gooeyest stuff you’ve ever played with. All these materials are available at some nursery/garden centers, one of which is very proximal to the Durham Cooperative Extension office.

For a fun activity now that will yield fresh living flowers in the bleak mid-winter try your hand at forcing spring flowering bulbs. Plant bulbs in pots early in October and place them in the refrigerator. In twelve weeks bring them out into the house and watch them grow and bloom. Kids love it.

 

Enjoying a Morning Cup of Coffee with My Houseplants

by Jane Malec, EMGV

A morning cup of coffee is a necessity at my house. It is just a part of getting the day started and I love everything about it — making it the night before, turning the pot on in the morning, and the aroma when it’s brewing. Over the years our coffee habits have changed due to the ever-fluctuating studies on the healthiness of, optimum consumption levels, or brew strength of a cup of coffee. It’s mostly decaf and fewer cups for us now.  Still, it remains a force of habit to pour the same level of water and ground coffee beans into the brewer regardless if we are running out the door or having a leisurely morning. Even if I reheat a cup later in the day, there is always a little left over brew sitting in the pot.

So I often walk around the house pouring the remaining cold coffee onto thirsty house plants. Our current home has a private well and I am ever more conscious of water usage. I make sure to pat myself on the back over my dedication to water conservation with every cup of coffee that soaks into the potting soil. I even wander outside to share the wealth with my container plants. A win-win, right? Or, maybe not. If there is a debate on human coffee consumption, I suddenly wondered if there might be one on plant consumption.

Coffee comes to us through a complicated path. To begin with, there are several species of coffee plants or trees, the two most commonly grown are Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora which is also called Coffea robusta. Arabica coffee is considered superior and commands a higher price than the robusta. Coffee production is a labor intensive process. The berries are picked by hand, sorted and allowed to ferment which removes a gelatinous tissue layer. Then they are washed with large amounts of fresh water. The seed of each berry, which is the bean, is roasted and then ground before becoming the beverage we enjoy. The degree of roasting the beans will determine the flavor, but not the caffeine level. Interestingly, the lighter roasts contain more caffeine so watch out you breakfast blend drinkers!

Which leads back to my curious question — is liquid coffee good for plants? There is a good amount of anecdotal information (on the Internet) concerning the use of brewed coffee for watering plants. However, there is little research-based information on this nor on liquid coffee’s benefits to soil.

However, there are some basic guidelines to help us understand if my “coffee watering practice” is helping or harming to plants. While coffee grounds tend to have a pH around 6.5 to 6.8 which is nearly neutral on the scale (neutral is 7), brewed liquid coffee is reported to have a pH level ranging from 5.2 to 6.9 depending on the type of coffee and how it is prepared. The lower the pH the higher the acidity; A drop in one full pH equals a factor of 10. For example, if the brewed coffee is 5.5 pH and the grounds are 6.5 pH, the brewed coffee is 10 times more acidic than the grounds.

Understanding that most plants like a slightly acidic to neutral pH and factoring in that most municipal water is slightly alkaline (pH greater than 7), it is possible that the acidity of the coffee could benefit plants. Also there are small measurable amounts of magnesium and potassium which are plant nutrients. Keep in mind that this information can only serve as a guideline as there can be other factors in play, for instance, if you have a private or community well, and whether or not you use a water softener.

The best recommendation is to follow some simple rules. Make sure the coffee is cold and then water it down. Never water with coffee if you add milk, cream or sugar. Know your plants pH happiness levels and then watch the impact this is having on your plants over time.  Adjust your morning coffee routine.   

Remember too much of a good thing is, well, too much of a good thing. Resign yourself to pouring some of the leftovers down the drain or on your compost pile. 

Maybe I could starting singing to my plants instead?  Hmm. 

Resources:

Coffee as Fertilizer?
https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dmp/palette/110109.html

Yard and Garden
https://extension.unl.edu/statewide/buffalo/Watering%20House%20Plants%20With%20Water%20%26%20Coffee%2C%20March%205%2C%202011.pdf

Clay soils
https://durham.ces.ncsu.edu/files/library/32/UNH%203.PDF

 

Holy Moley

by Andrea Laine, EMGV

A mole has taken up residence in my yard and, seemingly overnight, disrupted a couple of landscaped ornamental beds and killed two biennials. Well, it’s time to send that critter an eviction notice!

I immediately installed a spike as I’ve experienced good results with them in the past. These low-tech devices periodically emit a sonic vibration that supposedly moles find irritating. It worked, somewhat; The critter vacated the one bed, waddled (I imagine) across the walkway leading to my front door and dove into the next nearest bed to begin again. Aargh.

So, I poked another spike into the soil thinking, “can’t hurt, might help.”  True enough–no moles were hurt. Extension resources say my go-to solution has not been scientifically proven effective.

Know thy enemy
Solving a problem is more difficult when you know next to nothing about its cause. It was time for me to do some reading and uncover a few facts about moles:

  • Moles are solitary animals and, since they live underground, have few predators (snakes and foxes are two). Three to five moles per acre are considered a high population for most areas.
  • Moles are carnivores; they prefer to eat insects and grubs. They eat 70% or more of their body weight each day. With an appetite like that it is no wonder they cover so much (under)ground.
  • Moles are very efficient at tunneling. Observe their front feet in the accompanying photo and you can see why. The feet are broad and flat with long, protruding claws to help toss soil aside. They “swim” through the soil. They can tunnel forwards or backwards. Their deep (10 to 18 inches) and wide tunnels can destroy plant roots in their path, which is likely what happened to my biennials. get-rid-of-moles
  • Moles do not eat plants. If you notice plants or their roots suddenly vanishing, that is the work of white-footed mice or voles who are opportunistic herbivores – they make use of a mole tunnel to reach their food source.
  • In addition to grubs and insects, moles eat earthworms, spiders and other beneficial soil microorganisms. Moles like shaded, moist, cool loamy soil. No one warned me that a reward for improving my clayey soil would be moles. They also enjoy mulched areas and compost piles.
  • North Carolina is home to two species of mole: the Eastern mole and the star-nosed mole. The latter is a rare species and thus, moles are a protected species in this state.


Actions that may solve a mole problem
A 24-inch square piece of hardware cloth, bent in half and buried in the soil may work to protect a small area or a treasured plant. This option is hardly practical for my larger landscape and besides, I treasure all my plants.

Chemical repellents, toxicants and fumigants are not recommended as their effectiveness is limited at best and potentially dangerous to humans, pets and other wildlife. Extension also recommends not planting Euphorbia latharis (mole plant) nor Ricinus communis (castor bean plant) for similar reasons.

The most effective way to control moles is to trap them. Since moles are a protected species in N.C., you need a depredation permit to trap them. Depredation refers to wildlife causing property damage.

Benefits moles bring to nature
I am highly unlikely to experiment with trapping a mole, permit or not. And the problem would have to get pretty bad before I paid someone to trap a mole for me. So, it is time to consider what benefits moles bring to nature. Maybe we can coexist.

  • For starters, moles eat white grubs and the larvae of pest insects. Grubs become Japanese beetles so hooray for moles.
  • Tunneling loosens and aerates the soil. It also mixes the soil near the ground surface with deeper subsoil.
  • Borders of marigolds may repel moles from gardens. This method has not been scientifically tested but who would object to planting marigolds? Thus, I am counting it as a benefit.

Alas, there are just too few benefits of moles in the landscape. Sigh.

640px-Marigold_Flower

Drawing a conclusion
I might have won the battle, after all. One source noted that spring floods are probably the greatest danger to adult moles and their young. I know it’s not spring, but Hurricane Flo just dropped several inches of rain on Durham. Maybe the two inches of water that seeped from the over-saturated soil into my basement was also enough to wash away the smorgasbord that my resident mole was enjoying and he will soon pack up for new digs. Wishful thinking? Can’t hurt, might help me feel better.

Further Reading:

Find lots more detail about moles and trapping them at this resource from Penn State Extension:  https://extension.psu.edu/moles

https://wayne.ces.ncsu.edu/2015/12/moles-or-voles/

https://extension2.missouri.edu/G9440

https://www.ncwildlife.org/Licensing/Regulations/Nongame-and-Other-Regulations/Wildlife-Depredation

http://www.metromastergardeners.org/faq/index.php?action=artikel&cat=9&id=20&artlang=en

Photo credits:
Mole: https://www.almanac.com/pest/moles
Marigold:  Sarbast.T.Hameed [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

 

New Dates Announced for Master Gardener Information Sessions

Storm conditions last week caused us to cancel two information sessions which are the first step in the application process for becoming an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer in Durham County. The sessions have been rescheduled for Monday, September 24 at 2 p.m., and Tuesday, September 25 at 6 p.m.

Applicants must attend one information session. Remaining sessions are as follows:

September 18th, 10-11 am
September 20th, 6-7 pm
September 24th, 2 pm
September 25th, 6 pm

All sessions take place at the Durham County Extension office at 721 Foster Street in Durham.  Advance registration is required. Call 919-560-0521 to register for a session.

Durham County Extension has nearly 100 volunteers in the Extension Master Gardener program. We help county residents learn more about a myriad of gardening topics, answer questions, conduct demonstrations and workshops, and help maintain a community garden at Briggs Avenue.

Once interns have completed their initial training, they volunteer 40 hours of their time to the community every year. Beyond their initial training experience, they are able to attend lectures and workshops offered by state and national experts. To find out more about the Extension Master Gardener Volunteer program visit http://www.ncstategardening.org.