Learn With Us, week of January 26

Pruning – South Durham Library
Sunday, January 26⋅3:00 – 4:00pm

South Regional Library
4505 S Alston Ave, Durham, NC 27713
Description: February is usually prime time for pruning and shaping. Charles will discuss the goals of pruning, why it’s NOT cutting back, and how to go about it, including needed tools.

Classes are free. Registration is required.

Register online at the Durham County Library website durhamcountylibrary.org. Click on \”Events\” to find the full calendar of events. Go to the date of the class and sign up.
You can also call the Information Desk at South Regional Library to register: 919-560-7410.

In 2020 I Resolve to …

by Andrea Laine, EMGV

If you’re still searching for a new year’s resolution, I’ve got a really good one for gardeners. It doesn’t require sacrifice or expense yet can be very rewarding. Repeat after me: “I resolve to go on a monthly walk … in my own yard!”

Intentionally walking your yard on a monthly basis will result in a custom task list for your garden. Sure there are things we know we ought to do at certain times of the year, but it is easy to overlook them when they are out of view. During a monthly tour, nothing remains out of view.

I’m the only bonafide gardener in my household, so I do a solo walk. But if your partner gardens alongside you, then include them on the tour.

If not for the monthly tour, I would miss the little joys in a winter garden like the orange hips on this Gardenia ‘Lynn Lowrey.’ Photo by A. Laine.

Schedule your monthly walk for a day of the week that you are generally home and for a time of day when the yard is well lit. This is especially important if there are shady spots on your property. It can also be beneficial to conduct your walk at different times of the day throughout a season to observe where light falls in your yard.

Wear comfortable, seasonal-appropriate shoes and clothing. Take along a notebook and pencil, or a smartphone or tablet if you prefer. Whatever suits you for note-taking. The amount of time to allocate will depend on the size of the property and how many plantings it has. I generally spend 30 minutes or so to tour an acre.  

Your mission is to stroll the property at a semi-leisurely pace. Cover as much ground as possible and observe what’s happening in the garden. Get close to plants, linger a little. As you go along, record what plants or areas need attention and in what way(s). Empty spaces — opportunities for new plants — will become more clear. The monthly walk is also an optimal time to note what’s in bud or bloom or current weather conditions if you keep a gardening journal or would like to begin one.

On my January 3 tour, I noticed the first blossoms on a Camellia Japonica — a very early occurrence as this one usually blooms in February. Photo by A. Laine.

The challenge is to note what needs doing without actually doing it right then and there. I know this is hard, but it is important, so please try. Resist the urge to pull a few weeds, deadhead a flowering plant, or sweep a walkway. Help yourself stay focused by not bringing any gardening tools with you. I don’t even wear gloves (and I always wear gloves to garden).  

The monthly tour is something I’ve come to look forward to as I find it relaxing and meditative as well as productive. It really sets me up well for a good day’s work on the following days of the month that I do devote to actual working in the garden. One year my September monthly tour revealed a downed maple tree (about six-inch trunk diameter) behind our detached garage. It had most likely fallen during a recent tropical storm, but would have gone unnoticed for much longer had it not been for a sighting on the monthly tour.

Further Reading
The monthly garden tour is an excellent way to begin a garden journal. Here are two good Extension resources to learn more about what that may entail.


Learn With Us, week of January 19

Where Have All the Fireflies Gone? – Durham Garden Forum
Tuesday, January 21, 2020⋅7:00 – 8:30pm

Sarah P. Duke Gardens
420 Anderson St, Durham, NC 27708
Dr. Elsa Youngsteadt, Assistant Professor of Applied Ecology at North Carolina State University joins us to look at the facts about insect decline. Remember years ago when you had to frequently wash your windshield to remove bugs? Why does that not happen as much now and what does it mean in terms of environmental health for us all?

The Durham Garden Forum is an informal group that meets once a month to enrich our gardening knowledge and skill.
Lectures free for members, $10 general public.
No pre-registration necessary.

CONTACT US: durhamgardenforum@gmail.com

Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’

by Flora O’Brien, EMGV

This is the time of year we appreciate architectural elements in the winter garden. After the dazzle of fall we could use a bit of color, especially when the days are dreary or snow is on the ground. Enter the red twig dogwood.

Red twig dogwood. Photo by F. O’Brien

Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima,’ commonly called Tatarian dogwood, is an eye-catching shrub with bright red stems. In Spring there are gray-green leaves variegated with pure white edges, which last into fall. As the leaves disappear, the red stems remain. There are flowers, white, small and mostly hidden by the leaves in the spring. Drupes ripen by mid-summer and are enjoyed by the birds. The shrub grows eight to 10 feet tall and about five feet wide. The stems are reddest if the plant is grown in full sun. It tolerates various soil conditions and a moist, well-drained site. The new growth has the most color so it is advisable to prune back some of the oldest growth to six inches in early spring.

Elegantissima (synonymous with ‘Argenteomarginata’) tolerates deer and rabbits and is attractive to birds and butterflies. It grows wild in central Asia where the Tatars live, giving it its common name. All in all, the red twig dogwood would be a most lovely addition to your garden.

Resource & Further Reading


January: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Congratulations! We all made through another decade (although technically the new decade doesn’t start until 2021). We gardeners have seen it all—extended heat and drought, a week below freezing, too much rain, not enough rain, eight inches of snow in December, 100 degrees in mid-October. You name it, meteorologically, and we had it. Yet we persist.  Like farmers, we are eternally optimistic … or just plain nuts. Your call. That being said, here’s the “To Do” list for January, weather permitting, of course.

Lawn Care
If you haven’t already cleared the lawn of leaves, exactly what are you waiting for? There won’t be anymore leaves falling until the oaks shed their bottom leaves in the spring. Just do it, already.

Take a really good look at the grass area of your yard and see if there is the possibility of eliminating some (all?) of the grass. Less lawn equals less expense and greater sustainability.* Think about it. It’s your planet, too.

Nope.  Nothing to see here folks.

Maybe some asparagus crowns, but that’s about it for January. I take that back. I have successfully transplanted trees from the nursery in January. Just remember, if it turns dry, they need water even if they don’t have any foliage.

Pruning *
This is it! Your best reason to go play in the yard in January. Trees and shrubs are less traumatized by January pruning. The wounds heal faster from January infliction than in other months. Also, unless you have an actual hedge, please resist the temptation to use the hedge trimmer. Shearing is best left to the English, French or Japanese formal gardens. Hand pruning individual branches will produce healthier and more aesthetically pleasing plants.

So, the plants you brought in off the deck for the winter had “friends” on them and now they are somewhat bothersome? It happens. If possible, take them back out on a nice day and spray them with a horticultural oil or insecticidal soap. Let them dry, then bring them back inside. If you have to spray them inside, be careful. Wipe up any over-spray. ALWAYS READ THE LABEL.

If you have azaleas planted in a sunny location you probably have azalea lace bugs. They will be actively feeding whenever it is much above 40 degrees. Spray them with a horticultural oil and be done with them (at least until hot weather).

What to do when January is too inhospitable to play outside
Three words: seed catalogs, Google. Think about places in the garden where you might experiment with plants you haven’t tried before. Research the plant’s appropriateness for the space. “Right Plant Right Place” isn’t just a catchy phrase. Especially think about natives. Is the sunniest part of your yard right out front? Stick some tomatoes in with the petunias and marigolds, peppers in the perennial bed. It’ll give the neighbors something to talk about until you start sharing the tomatoes. If you have an HOA, my condolences.

Stay warm, y’all. March is closer than you imagine.

*Resources & Further Reading
Bull City Gardener Learning Series – Sustainable Lawns and Alternatives: April 16 and April 18, Learn more: https://durham.ces.ncsu.edu/

General Pruning Techniques for Trees & Shrubs