December: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

December 2020
Finally, is here.
Let’s hope it’s a time
Of goodwill and cheer.

A time of peace
A time to be jolly,
Decorate the house
With red and green holly  (Ilex sps).

Let’s celebrate
So many things,
A festival of lights,
The birth of a king.

Kwanza will fill us
With hope and cheer,
And the 31st
Will conclude this strange year.

But before it gets COLD
And the ground hardens,
There are things you can do
Out in your gardens.

Lawn
If your lawn is Fescue
Or Kentucky blue,
There’s still some mowing
You’ll need to do.

Not too short;
Four inches is neat.
Or there’ll be more weeds
You’ll have to defeat.

And speaking of broadleaf
Weeds to be slam(ba)
Try 2-4D
And/or dicamba.

Always, always
Follow package directions
In order to prevent
A lawn insurrection.

Fertilizing
Check the results
Of your SOIL TEST
To see how much
Lime would be best.

Planting
If in your Spring garden
Blooming bulbs shall be found,
Now is the time
To put the bulbs in the ground.

Even though
The sun’s rays are slanting,
It’s not too late
For Fall plant planting.

Trees and shrubs
And things that bloom,
Somewhere in the garden
There must be some room!

Pruning
You can prune again
Now that it’s cold.
Remove those branches
That have gotten too old.

Shape those non-blooming shrubs
Make ‘em real nice
Before they get covered
In snow or ice.

Spraying
If there are bugs
Still left to foil
Give them a shot
Of horticultural oil.

Then clear out the sprayer
And hang it to dry.
You won’t need it again
Until Spring is nigh.

Other stuff
Other activities
And gardening fun
For staying outside
In the winter sun.

Look at the garden
Is there mulch to be spread
To protect the plants
And enhance the bed?

And what of that spot
Right over there?
Does it need a plant
To make it less bare?

And if it’s too cold
Outside to be,
There are seed catalogues
That have to be read.

And when it’s all done
Find a good book
Grab a hot cup of something
And curl up in a nook.

Happy holidays, y’all! Here’s to a great 2021!

Overwintering Honey Bees in the South

By Catherine Urich, EMGV

As the days of autumn begin to shorten, the bee hives prepare for winter. The queen’s production of eggs will decline in order to reduce the number of bees that need to be taken care of during the cold months. A productive hive requires approximately 40 pounds of honey for the bees to survive an average southern winter. Therefore, the hive will be reduced from 50,000 bees to approximately 20,000. The reduction of the bees is due to the decline of eggs laid by the queen and worker bees dying off. A worker bee’s lifecycle is approximately 28 days during the summer and up to 50 days in the winter. All of the male bees are kicked out of the hive kicking and screaming NOOOOO so the girls will not have to feed them all winter long.

Beekeepers will normally reduce the number of the hive bodies and honey supers on the hive so that it’s more compact and doesn’t overwhelm the bees. It’s important to have one brood chamber and one honey super on each hive. The beekeeper will place an entrance reducer on the hive to prevent rodents from entering and setting up housekeeping during the winter.

Honey and pollen are stored around the perimeter of the brood frame for easy access during very cold weather. The colony will cluster around the queen to keep her warm and fed during cold months. They rotate from outside in to create warmth through their body heat to help keep the brood warm as well as the queen and themselves. The internal temperature of the cluster should remain no lower than 45 degrees regardless of the external temperature. There are winters that the bees will starve or succumb to disease even though they have been well taken care of. Sometimes it’s just bad luck. 

Pests like hive beetles are not normally an issue in the winter because they had rather overwinter in the ground below. Some beekeepers douse the area with a pesticide around the hive to kill the eggs of the beetles. Normally bees do not hang out or land directly in front of the hive.

Food supplies may dwindle during the winter months and the beekeeper will feed with sugar syrup, one pound of sugar to one pound of water. The beginning of February or three weeks before the honey flow starts, the beekeeper will provide pollen patties for the bees to build up their energy to be successful in the spring. Even though there could be snow on the ground, trees will still produce pollen and the worker bees are anxious to collect it. The queen will begin increasing egg production around the same time. Spring is on the way and the hive is beginning to re-BUZZ.

Resources & Further Reading

If you wish to learn more about beekeeping, join your county beekeepers club. Durham’s club meets the third Monday of the month at 7 p.m., currently via Zoom.
http://www.durhambeekeepers.org/

Getting started as a beekeeper
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/how-to-become-a-beekeeper-in-north-carolina

The classified ads section of the NC Agricultural Review newsletter is a place to find beekeeping supplies for sale
http://www.ncagr.gov/paffairs/agreview/index.htm

NC Beekeepers Association
https://www.ncbeekeepers.org/

Ask Extension

The current format for Ask an Expert has been retired. It will be replaced by a new, but similar system called Ask Extension. This is a statewide initiative to upgrade the Ask an Expert system and details are still forthcoming.

In the meantime, and beyond, you may contact the Durham County Extension Master Gardener program directly to ask your gardening questions – We are experts, too! Reach us via email: durhammastergardener@gmail.com or telephone: 919-560-0528.

November: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

It appears to be November, not that we could have missed that fact this year.

The accidental cottage garden is a mixed bag this time of year. The driveway border planting has only a few hardy ageratums (Conoclinium coelestinum) and flat-topped white asters (Aster umbellatus) keeping it from looking like a totally neglected weed patch. The kitchen garden looks slightly less morose. The Chrysanthemum ‘Spreads Like Crazy’ is nearly done. There are some black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia fuglida) and three sunflower plants (Helianthus annuus) from seeds donated by wildlife. The other end of the house has Galardia (Galardia puchella) and Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) gracing us with their brightly painted blooms.

Lawn Care

If you have a warm season grass lawn (Bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, centipedegrass, St. Augustinegrass) all you need to do is keep it relatively free of leaves.  If on the other hand you have a cool season grass lawn (tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, fine fescues, and perennial ryegrass), you are still cutting it 3.5 to four inches tall AND keeping it relatively leaf-free. Continue the never-ending war with fire ants.

Fertilizer

Not much going on here. If your soil pH is low, less than 6.0 (I’m sure you were astute enough to get it tested before NCDOA starts charging for the service later this month), apply the recommended amount of lime. A good way to incorporate it into the soil is to core aerate the lawn before the application. Wood ashes from your fireplace can be spread on your gardens and shrub beds. Be careful to avoid acid-loving plants such as azaleas, camellias, gardenias, etc.

Planting

Let me repeat, “Fall is for planting!” There is still lots of time to add and/or transplant plants in your landscape (per your PLAN, naturally). Plant one-year-old asparagus crowns now. Sow a cover crop* over the veggie garden if it is done for the year. A planting of annual rye, wheat, or barley will help prevent erosion and keep weeds to a minimum. Besides you can just till it into the soil in the spring as a bonus.

Pruning

After Jack Frost has claimed the last of your herbaceous perennials including existing asparagus they can be cut back to the over-wintering rosettes or the ground. Dead and/or diseased wood can be pruned out at any time. Weeds and undesirable trees can now be removed without the three bottles of water per hour, head sweat band, and insect repellent.

Spraying

Surely by now you have cleaned up and put away the spray equipment. If not, “Just do it.”

Other stuff to do that will keep you outside and prevent eggnog overdose
As mentioned earlier, add lime where recommended. No fertilizer until spring.

Walk around the yard on mild days and, this year anyway, maybe on some not so mild days. Not only are mild days numbered for the rest of the year, but outside seems to be the safe place to be.

Okay, you can go inside now and order those fruit trees* and vines you’ve been talking about. They will be delivered in time for planting in February or March.  (Did you know hardy kiwi will grow well in a sunny place and produce a prodigious amount of fruit?)

While you are inside look at your landscape plan and make adjustments based on this year’s experiences. I hope you have a great, though perhaps modified, Thanksgiving. Cook enough to share with someone who wouldn’t otherwise have any.

And, stay safe: Wear your mask. Wait six feet apart. Wash your hands. The life you save may be your own.

*Resources & Further Reading
A list of common plant diseases, pests, and other problems you may encounter in your garden in November
https://pdic.ces.ncsu.edu/bolo-november/

Covid-19 information
https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/materials-resources/know-your-ws-wear-wait-wash

Winter annual cover crops
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/winter-annual-cover-crops

NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox
plants.ces.ncsu.edu

Growing tree fruits and nuts in NC
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/north-carolina-production-guide-for-smaller-orchard-plantings

A Tale of Three Sedges

by Flora O’Brien, EMGV

What’s so great about sedges? They just look like clumps of grass, right? Well, here are three sedges both unusual and interesting for sun, shade and in-between.

Top to bottom: Carex scaposa, Carex Sparkler, Carex Whitetop. Credit Flora O’Brien.

The Cherry Blossom Sedge, (Carex scaposa), has surprising, vibrant, showy pink flowers, something you don’t expect to find in a sedge. The plant grows in clumps, stands about a foot high and has wide arching leaves. It blooms in summer and repeats in the fall. Plant this beauty in part shade to shade in average soil.


Next is Carex phyllocephala, “Sparkler.’ This plant was given to me last winter by a friend. What I love is that it looks like a small palm tree. The foliage is variegated and sits atop one- to two-foot tall cane-like stems. This is also a clump former and does best in part shade to deep shade.




And for the sun, try Rhynchospora colorate or Star Sedge (also known as Whitetop Sedge). The flowers themselves are tiny but have long flowing bracts, white near the flower, then changing to green near the tip. From a distance they look like bobbing white daisies. This plant spreads by rhizomes so it will need to be thinned occasionally. I have included a close-up photo to illustrate the lovely form.



So, don’t pass over sedges believing them to be boring. Check these three out and prepare to be amazed.

Resources & Further Reading https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/rhynchospora-colorata/
http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=256661
https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=rhco7