With the emergence of the Asian Giant Hornet in Washington State, the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is urging North Carolina residents to be vigilant and report potential sightings of the pest.
Asian Giant Hornets are the world’s largest species of hornet, measuring about an inch-and-a-half to two inches long. They have an orange-yellow head and prominent eyes, with black and yellow stripes on their abdomens. The hornet is not known to occur in North Carolina, and our state’s apiary staff have been actively monitoring for the pest with no detections to date.
“The Asian Giant Hornet is a threat to honeybees and can rapidly destroy beehives, but it generally does not attack people or pets,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “There are many wasp and hornet look-alikes that are beneficial insects, so residents are asked to exercise caution before deciding to kill any large hornets.”
One of the things we master gardener bloggers take pride in doing is busting gardening myths. Our approach to accomplishing that is by presenting readers with a common problem or challenge, describing our firsthand experiences, and then sharing recommended solutions from the agricultural research-scientists associated with NC State Extension Services and nearby states that share our climate, soil and other growing conditions.
The approach we generally avoid is saying, “Hey, so-and-so said do this and here’s why you should not follow their advice!” I’m about to break with that tradition because of a gardening “how-to” piece I just read in an international newspaper with a large circulation.
The piece illustrated how to carve a garden out of your lawn using wet layers of newspaper, several sheets thick, and mulch on top. So far, so good. Where it goes astray is instructing you to plant immediately afterward by cutting holes through the paper and through the sod. Why bother with the paper if you’re going to need to cut the sod anyway? And, guess what, sod is a living being, too. While it is still trying to live under that newspaper it is competing with your annuals or vegetables for water and nutrients. For best results, leave that newspaper and mulch in place, untouched (except for watering) for six months, so whatever was underneath (sod or weeds) ceases to grow and is well on its way to breaking down into compost. By the way, cardboard works as well as newspapers*.
The newspaper and writer had good intentions. We are living in unusual times — people across the US and around the world — are staying home to minimize the spread of Covid-19. It is springtime and people are gardening; even people who rarely if ever gardened before. That’s great!!! Gardening has many benefits to our physical and mental well-being, and to the environment.
Anything worth doing is worth doing right. So, whether your motivation to garden is putting food on your table, enjoying pretty flowers in your landscape, or sprucing up the yard or lawn to help pass time while you are staying home, master gardeners can teach you how to do it right. Let the over-simplified instructions and pretty pictures in mainstream newspapers, magazines and social media inspire you. When you are ready to take action, seek out sources devoted to the area of gardening that you are most enthusiastic about. NC State Extension’s archive of horticulture publications and fact sheets is a great place to begin. (After following this blog, of course!) And you can always send us a question at email@example.com.
*Consider planting a container garden while waiting for your newspaper to breakdown.
Cy Gurney and I became friends and Extension master gardener volunteers at the same time, so perhaps it’s no surprised that we share a love for growing irises. Our two Durham gardens present different growing conditions. My garden is a sunny downtown location. Cy’s garden, in the northern part of the county, is shaded by mature canopy trees. Yet we both are able to enjoy growing iris, an ornamental plant that commands attention at spring time with their regal stature, big blasts of color and, as with some varieties, that gentle scent of a freshly opened bottle of cream soda.
The name iris comes from the Greek word for rainbow–a reference to the vast amount of colors that irises display. They are easy to grow in zones 3 to 8 in the East. They prefer a sunny site and a light, loamy soil with pH of 6 to 7. They don’t like their rhizomes wet, so amend your clay soil with organic matter to improve drainage. Also, bury the rhizome firmly in the soil but near the surface; if planted too deeply, an iris will not bloom. Plant them in July, August or September and they will reward you the following year.
Iris in Jackie’s Sunny Garden
An iris flower has three upright petals called “standards” and three hanging petals called “falls.”
Some irises have fuzzy growth at the beginning (central side) of each fall. That is called a beard and those irises are Bearded Iris or Iris Germanica. The beard can be in contrasting colors to the petal (fall) below and is assumed to help attract pollinators.
Below is a picture of a Bearded Iris very similar to ‘Madame Henry Cayeaux.’ The light pink colored petals are the standards, the deep purple falls have a lighter color variegation towards the center and, laying on top of it, you can see the fuzzy yellow beard.
Here is another Bearded Iris. You can see the yellow beard laying on the striated yellow-gold and purple fall. If you compare the petals to the bearded iris in the picture above, you will see that these petals are ruffled. I believe this iris is called ’Nibelungen.’
Here is a variegated purple and white Bearded Iris. The flower shape and beard are much harder to discern in this variety ‘Batik,’ (see photos below) which is German for tie-dye. It’s quite the show-stopper!
Iris in Cy’s Shadier Garden
Irises have long been a favorite for many gardeners, yet not all gardens have the full sun needed for the large and beautiful bearded irises. If your tree canopy is tall and not dense, in the spring you can try these types of irises in your part-shade garden. These were in full bloom in April in my shady garden in northern Durham.
Iris japonica ‘Eco Easter’ is also known as Fringed Iris and Butterfly Flower. This is an easy to grow plant. It spreads 12 to 15 inches and grows in dense clumps of broad fans of green strap shaped leaves. It is an evergreen herbaceous perennial. It has two-inch lavender-blue flowers that have a yellow base and with darker purple markings on the lower petals (the falls) with the inner lavender-blue petals (the standards) that are narrow with fringed tips. The buds flower on multiple stems, which bloom reliably and in secession during early to mid-spring. It thrives in part-shade to full-shade and is deer resistant. It spreads by long slender, creeping rhizomes, making this an easy plant to share.
Iris hollandica ‘Dutch Iris’ (pictured below) grows from a teardrop shaped bulb. The flower colors are pale blue, lemon-yellow and deep purple, bronze, rose and gold. These are popular because they are long-lasting and look great in a flower vase. They have tall 18- to 24-inch sturdy stems which look nice in the back of a spring garden. The bulbs were planted in the fall among daffodils and tulips. They can rebloom a second year, but most gardeners treat them as annuals and replant new bulbs each year. They perform best in sun but they will also grow in part-shade.
Iris tectorum ‘Roof Iris’ is a herbaceous perennial. This is a 15-inch tall species of the crested iris group with large, six -inch across, beardless, bright lilac-purple flowers which are crested white. The leaves are in fans of narrow, lance-shaped leaves that are supple and arc in a lovely display. The rhizomes should be spaced 16 inches apart as this plant can spread vigorously, so plant with a plan in mind. It is deer resistant and does not require a great deal of water. It does well in sun and part-shade gardens. The common name is derived from the historical use on thatched roofs in its native China and Japan.
The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) has resumed testing soil samples submitted by the general public. To help limit the spread of COVID-19, the labs had previously restricted their testing to agriculture.
The labs continue to operate with reduced staffing and turnaround time for routine soil sample results may be longer than usual. Soil testing is free from April through November.
Local gardeners can pick up soil sampling supplies outside the Durham County Cooperative Extension building at 721 Foster Street, Durham. Drive around to the back of the building to find the supplies in a box on the railing at the back entrance. See photo.
You can pick up both the home and lawn forms (and the more extensive farmer form), instructions on how to submit a sample, and of course soil boxes.
You will need to deliver the samples to the lab yourself by mail or in person (but contact-free). The mailing address is: 1040 Mail Service Center, Raleigh NC 27699-1040. The physical address is: 4300 Reedy Creek Road, Raleigh. The lab is in the Eaddy Building. Once you arrive at the building drop off the sample at the loading dock. The entrance gate will be open during normal business hours and closed during the evenings and on weekends.
A frost/freeze warning has been issued for Durham County (and most of NC) for Sunday morning. Temperatures may dip close to or below freezing. If you’ve already planted summer annuals, warm season vegetables, or eagerly await blossoms on fruit trees or ornamentals that typically flower later in spring or summer, you will want to protect them before dark on Saturday.
Extension master gardeners in Buncombe County, NC posted an excellent article this morning about the nuances of a late frost, plants at risk, and actions gardeners can take to minimize damage from late frosts. The article was written by Alyson Arnold, Buncombe County’s consumer horticulture agent, and the advice holds up for Central North Carolina, too. Follow this link to read the article.